WAVERLY, Ohio — After the jury spent a week off while the prosecution and defense argued procedural hearings in court, trial resumed Monday with closing arguments from the prosecution.
During procedural hearings, the prosecution said they intend to drop the death specifications against the defendant in agreement with plea deals formed with Jake and Angela Wagner. The jury was informed of that Monday; Judge Randy Deering also informed the jury they would not be sequestered during deliberation.
George Wagner IV — along with his mother Angela, father George “Billy” Wagner and brother Edward “Jake” Wagner — is accused of shooting and killing the Rhoden family members “execution-style.” The family’s bodies were found on April 22, 2016. He faces eight charges of aggravated murder, along with other charges associated with tampering with evidence, conspiracy and forgery.
Found dead that day were 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr., 37-year-old Dana Rhoden, 20-year-old Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 16-year-old Christopher Rhoden Jr., 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 37-year-old Gary Rhoden, 19-year-old Hanna May Rhoden, and 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden.
The trial is the first time a person has faced a jury for the deaths of the Rhoden family six years ago.
For the prosecution’s closing arguments, Angela Canepa, special prosecutor, stepped up to the podium, which had been turned to face the jury box instead of the witness stand.
Canepa began by apologizing to the jury for the lengthiness of the trial, which has also been peppered with various delays throughout the eleven weeks of testimony since the jury was selected.
“You guys have served the longest of any criminal jury I can think of,” she said.
Returning to her opening statements nearly three months ago, Canepa said now the jury can appreciate what she meant then, when she said the murders were senseless.
“We are here because eight innocent victims were slaughtered, most of them in their sleep and all of them unarmed and unsuspecting that anything was afoot,” said Canepa.
The motive for the murders, she urged the jury to remember, was to protect George’s niece Sophia from unconfirmed abuse at the hands of someone in the Rhoden family; the idea became an obsession of the Wagner family.
She began by revisiting each victim, repeating the words witnesses and family used to describe them both on and off the witness stand and reinforcing that many of the victims were murdered just because they were there, or because they would have known the Wagners were the murderers.
“Frankie was the type of man you would have to get through to get to his family,” she said.
“Her crime was solely being there, nothing else,” Canepa said of Hannah Hazel.
She noted to the jury that Chris Sr. was described as a hard worker who provided for his family.
“He was killed because he was the patriarch,” she said.
Gary was described by friends and family as “goofy,” Canepa said, but ultimately all he’d done to warrant his murder was “simply being there.”
She recalled family’s anecdotes about Kenneth and his generosity, particularly for his own family, and described him as “a hard-working man.”
Dana was a “loving mother and grandmother,” who was supposed to babysit her grandson the very next day.
“She was not suspected of doing anything wrong to Sophia at all, she was just there,” said Canepa.
Hanna May — the main target of the homicides — was just 19 years old and while the Wagner family didn’t think she’d done anything to harm her own daughter, she wasn’t cooperating with the Wagner family’s ideals for how to raise Sophia.
“She refused to be manipulated by the Wagners,” said Canepa.
Chris Jr., shot to death while he slept, was suspected by Angela of being Sophia’s abuser because of a remark made by the toddler. Other than that, the only negative thing said about the then-16-year-old boy was that he was an annoying little brother sent to chaperone Hanna May’s visits to the Wagner family property while she dated Jake.
Canepa then pivoted, walking the jury back through the last several weeks of witness testimony beginning with what they heard from the women with whom Jake and George had relationships; Tabitha, George’s ex-wife, Beth, Jake’s ex-wife and Hanna May were all women “who find themselves ensnared in the Wagners’ lives,” said Canepa.
The relationships play out like a soap opera, Canepa admitted, but said they were crucial to the jury’s understanding of the Wagner family dynamics and the family’s motive to commit murder.
George used the court systems and Tabitha’s trust in him to gain full custody of their son, Bulvine, instead of resorting to murder, but it was that custody arrangement and the lack of access it gave Tabitha to her son that influenced Hanna May to refuse signing any paperwork offered to her by the Wagner family.
Both Tabitha and, later, Beth, testified the Wagner home was strange and controlling, with everything up for family-wide debates — including their marriages and sexual relationships with their husbands.
This story will be updated as trial unfolds throughout the day.
You can read recaps of each day of the trial in our coverage below:
- Prosecution will no longer seek death penalty
- No jury, court holding procedural hearings
- State and defense rest, court paused for holiday week
- ‘They should have death given to them,’ George said should be fate of Rhoden killers
- George Wagner IV testifies in own defense
- Arguments over evidence, defense calls witnesses
- No jury Monday as defense and prosecution argue over evidence
- The prosecution rests its case after playing final wiretap recordings
- ‘We get electrocuted…it’s your fault,” George told his brother in wiretap
- Jury dismissed early again over disagreements on wiretap recordings
- Prosecution tries to tie murder plot to movie plot
- Trial postponed to Monday over evidentiary issues
- Murders were about protection, not custody, said Angela
- Angela told the prosecution bloody shoeprints belonged to George
- Angela Wagner called to stand, opted out of recording
- Investigators describe recovering, testing murder weapons
- Jake Wagner finishes testimony as seventh week of trial wrapped up
- Photos of murder weapons are shown for first time as Jake testifies for third day
- Jake Wagner ‘could not bear to think’ or speak about his crimes after the murders
- ‘I felt I had no other choice than to kill Hanna,’ Jake Wagner told jury
- ‘I was afraid they were going to kill me,’ Jake’s ex-wife testifies
- Texts between Hanna Rhoden and Jake Wagner detail ongoing custody argument
- Witnesses describe intertwined Wagner finances and a device found inside a well
- Clandestine recordings made by Jake, Wagner family finances presented
- Wire taps played for jury as court enters sixth week of testimony
- George Wagner IV’s grandmother testifies
- Interview with Angela played for jury, Angela’s half brother takes stand
- Texts highlight Wagner family dynamic, purchases for possible silencer
- Dozens of guns collected in search of Flying W Farm, but no murder weapons
- Jury shown evidence collected from Wagner belongings
- Evidence collected on Wagner property presented
- BCI agents testified to evidence
- Ex-wife of George Wagner IV describes ‘strange and controlling’ Wagner home
- Jury hears from George Wagner IV’s ex-wife as fourth week of testimony begins
- Family members tearfully describe the day of the homicides
- Bloody shoe prints, cell phone records are focus
- Experts testify about ballistics, shoeprint evidence
- Third week of trial moves on to Kenneth Rhoden’s home
- Evidence presented from third crime scene
- Scene where Dana, Chris. Jr and Hanna May Rhoden were killed is focus
- Testimony focuses on second of four crime scenes
- Coroner describes two of eight victims autopsied
- Forensic testimony continues into Monday
- Forensic evidence takes center stage
- Testimony centers on Kenneth Rhoden, final victim discovered
- Emergency responders testify about chaotic scenes
- Witnesses describe discovering their family members’ bodies
- Opening statements detail grisly moments in the six-year-old murder case
- Read a full timeline of the Pike County murder investigation
Watch opening statements below:
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)