Pike County murder trial of George Wagner IV | What you need to know

A jury found George Wagner IV guilty of eight counts of aggravated murder and 14 other charges in connection with the 2016 deaths of eight members of the Rhoden family.

The trial, likely the longest homicide trial in Ohio history, lasted more than 12 weeks and involved 60 witnesses and close to 5,000 pieces of evidence.

Wagner IV’s decision to testify in his own defense came as a surprise. He further surprised court watchers and the small audience gathered inside the Pike County Common Pleas courtroom when he denied any knowledge or involvement in the Rhoden homicides, which the prosecution contends were motivated by fears that the grandchild the Wagner and Rhoden families shared was being molested.

Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio is where the trial of George Wagner IV is taking place.
Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio is where the trial of George Wagner IV is taking place.

Here’s what you need to know about the trial.

Who is George Wagner IV?

Born Oct. 6, 1991, Wagner IV is the first of two sons of George “Billy” Wagner III and Angela Jo Carter Wagner.

Homeschooled by his mother, Wagner IV attended an auto mechanic program at a trade school. He hauled cattle with his father and younger brother Jake Wagner IV and, when arrested, was employed by R&L Carriers, a Wilmington, Ohio-based trucking company.

George Wagner IV is questioned by Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa on Nov. 17.
George Wagner IV is questioned by Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa on Nov. 17.

Growing up, Wagner IV, like his peers, rode four-wheelers, camped, fished and hunted. He owned at least 16 guns, according to a list investigators found in his brother’s cell phone.

Wagner IV and Tabitha Claytor were married for two and a half years before Wagner IV’s filing to dissolve the marriage was granted in 2015. Their son Bulvine is now 9.

What is George Wagner IV charged with?

Wagner IV is facing 22 counts, eight of them aggravated murder.

He entered not guilty pleas to the charges. His father, George “Billy” Wagner III, who will be tried next, did the same.

George "Billy" Wagner III talks with his attorney Mark Collins before his plea to Judge Randy Deering at the Pike County Courthouse on Dec. 4, 2018.
George "Billy" Wagner III talks with his attorney Mark Collins before his plea to Judge Randy Deering at the Pike County Courthouse on Dec. 4, 2018.

His younger brother and mother – Edward “Jake” and Angela Wagner – switched from not guilty to guilty pleas last year with the promise that the entire family would be spared the death penalty if convicted.

Who were the victims?

The victims were all related, by blood or otherwise, living in four different homes in Pike County. Shot to death on the night of April 21-22 in 2016, were:

  • Chris Rhoden Sr., 40, the ex-husband of Dana Rhoden, father of three other victims, and brother and cousin to two others.

  • Dana Manley Rhoden, 37, formerly married to Chris Rhoden and mother of their three children.

  • Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, the older son of Chris and Dana Rhoden and father of Ruger and Brentley Rhoden. The children, then ages 6 months and 3 years respectively, were removed from that crime scene unharmed.

  • Hanna May Rhoden, 19, Chris and Dana Rhoden’s daughter, and mother to Sophia Wagner, then 2 years old, and Kylie Rhoden, then five days old. Sophia, the daughter of Jake Wagner, was not at the scene that night. Infant Kylie, whose father was later determined to be Charlie Gilley, was found unharmed next to her dead mother.

  • Kenneth Rhoden, 44, the brother of Chris Rhoden.

  • Gary Rhoden, 38, the cousin of both Chris and Kenneth Rhoden.

  • Hannah Hazel Gilley, 20, engaged to Frankie Rhoden and mother of Ruger but not Brentley.

Angela Canepa, special prosecutor, delivers the opening statement in the murder trial of George Wagner IV, 30, in Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio, on Sept. 12, 2022. Wagner is charged with 22 counts, eight of them aggravated murder, in connection with the shooting deaths of seven members of Pike County's Rhoden family and one future member on April 21-22, 2016. Images of the victims filled three TV screens during her opening statement.
Angela Canepa, special prosecutor, delivers the opening statement in the murder trial of George Wagner IV, 30, in Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio, on Sept. 12, 2022. Wagner is charged with 22 counts, eight of them aggravated murder, in connection with the shooting deaths of seven members of Pike County's Rhoden family and one future member on April 21-22, 2016. Images of the victims filled three TV screens during her opening statement.

Three young children at home the night of the killings were left unharmed.

When was Wagner IV arrested?

Wagner IV, his father, mother and brother were arrested in November 2018, more than two-and-a-half years after the Rhodens were killed. The investigation into the case attracted more than 1,100 tips and required 500 interviews, state officials said earlier.

More:Pike County case history at six years: Eight victims, six defendants, one trial

Also arrested were the older Wagners’ mothers. Charges against Fredericka Wagner were dropped the next year. Most charges against Rita Newcomb, maternal grandmother of the Wagner boys, were dropped after she pleaded guilty to obstructing business in connection with the investigation.

Who testified during the trial?

Before the surprise decision by the defense to put Wagner IV on the stand, the most anticipated witnesses in Wagner IV's trial were his younger brother Edward “Jake” Wagner and his mother Angela Wagner.

During four days of testimony, Jake Wagner admitted to killing five of the eight victims and implicated his father, George “Billy” Wagner III, in the other three.

The plan had been for George Wagner IV to shoot one of the victims. But he failed to do so, Jake Wagner testified. “I told him to shoot but he didn’t,” Jake Wagner said.

More:'Con artists and thieves.' Brother vs. brother in Pike County murder trial

For her part, Angela Wagner said she joined her husband and two sons in preparing to kill the Rhoden family in April 2016, but denied knowing the particulars of who shot whom or how.

On the night of the killings, Angela Wagner said her husband and two sons left the house while she stayed behind with the grandchildren.

What did George Wagner IV say?

Wagner IV denied knowing of the plan to kill the Rhodens.

"I never would have believed my family would be capable of doing something of this magnitude," he said. “Theft is one thing. Murder is an entirely different thing.”

And if you’d known, what would you have done, defense attorney John P. Parker asked Wagner IV.

“I would have never let it happen,” he replied. “One way or another, I would not have let it happen.”

What was George Wagner IV found guilty of in Pike County murders

Wagner IV faced 22 counts, eight of them aggravated murder:

  • 1. Aggravated murder, for death of Kenneth Rhoden

  • 2. Aggravated murder, for death of Chris Rhoden Sr.

  • 3. Aggravated murder, for death of Gary Rhoden

  • 4. Aggravated murder, for death of Clarence Franklin Rhoden

  • 5. Aggravated murder, for death of Hannah Hazel Gilley

  • 6. Aggravated murder, for death of Dana Rhoden

  • 7. Aggravated murder, for death of Hanna May Rhoden

  • 8. Aggravated murder, for death of Christopher Rhoden Jr.

  • 9. Conspiracy, first degree felony

  • 10. Aggravated burglary, first degree felony, for 1084 Left Fork Road

  • 11. Aggravated burglary, first degree felony, for 4199 Union Hill Road

  • 12. Aggravated burglary, first degree felony, for 4077 Union Hill Road

  • 13. Aggravated burglary, first degree felony, for 3122 Union Hill Road

  • 14. Unlawful possession of dangerous ordinance, fifth degree felony

  • 15. Tampering with evidence, third degree felony

  • 16. Tampering with evidence, third degree felony

  • 17. Tampering with evidence, third degree felony

  • 18. Forgery, fifth degree felony

  • 19. Unauthorized use of property, fifth degree felony

  • 20. Interception of wire, oral or electronic communications, fourth degree felony

  • 21. Obstructing justice, fifth degree felony

  • 22. Engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, first degree felony

Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Patricia Gallagher Newberry contributed to this report.

Monroe Trombly covers breaking and trending news for The Columbus Dispatch, a sister paper to The Cincinnati Enquirer. He can be reached by email at mtrombly@dispatch.com or on Twitter @monroetrombly.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Who George Wagner IV and what did he do?