Man convicted in Ohio family massacre wants new trial

Posted at 3:39 PM, June 12, 2024 and last updated 12:04 PM, June 12, 2024

PIKE COUNTY, Ohio (Court TV) — An Ohio man convicted of helping his family plan and carry out the murders of eight members of another family wants a new trial.

George Wagner IV was convicted of 22 counts following a three-month trial in 2022. He was given eight life sentences and 121 years in prison for other charges. His mother and brother, Angela and Jake Wagner, pleaded guilty in 2021 and testified against George. His father, Billy Wagner, is awaiting trial.

George Wagner testifies

George Wagner IV, takes the stand in his, Wednesday Nov. 16, 2022 in Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio.  (Liz Dufour/Cincinnati Enquirer/POOL)

George still denies that he helped plan or participate in the murders, which stemmed from a custody dispute over Jake’s daughter with his ex-girlfriend, Hanna Rhoden.

Hanna Rhoden was shot to death in her bed with another child in her arms, her newborn daughter. The infant’s life was spared, but Hanna’s mother, Dana Rhoden, and her younger brother, Chris, were killed in the same home as Hanna. Hanna’s father, Chris Rhoden, and his cousin, Gary Rhoden, were killed in another home. Hanna’s older brother, Frankie, and his fiancée, Hannah Gilley, were killed in their home while their daughter’s life was spared. Hanna’s uncle, Kenneth Rhoden, was killed in his camper. Jake and Hanna’s daughter was staying with the Wagners the night of the murders.

In court documents filed Monday and obtained by Court TV, George’s defense claims their client was denied a fair trial and prosecutors made several errors:

  • “The State made an inherently coercive deal with George’s brother, Jake Wagner, and mother, Angela Wagner, threatening to maintain pursuing the death penalty for them and their family members unless they gave testimony that the State believed to be true. It denied George the benefit of Jake and Angela’s bargained-for dismissal of capital specifications until the end of his trial.”
  • George’s defense claims “death-qualified jurors” were picked because they were “more likely to convict,” even though it was expected that the death penalty would be removed because of the State’s deal with Jake.
  • “During closing arguments, the State accused defense counsel of knowing that George was lying and coaching his testimony.”
  • Three jurors had direct personal connections to the victims:
    • Juror A-194 knew Chris Sr. and Dana before they were killed, and he equivocated on whether it would impact his deliberations.
    • Juror A-243 knew Hanna May, Frankie, and Little Chris from her time working at their school, and she admitted that photos of their death could sway her.
    • Juror A-271 worked as a dispatcher for the ambulance company that received the initial emergency call on April 22, 2016, and she spent that day arranging the transport of the victims’ infant children.

In their brief, the defense also claims evidence presented at trial about prior crimes and guns not used in the killings only served to make George out to be just like his criminal family.

READ MORE | George Wagner IV appeals, requests new trial

Prosecutors have 60 days to respond to the filing, reports the Associated Press.