By: Felicia Jordan
WAVERLY, Ohio (Scripps News Cincinnati) — The date the murder trial for the patriarch of the Wagner family will begin was announced in court Wednesday during a hearing.
The trial of George “Billy” Wagner III is scheduled to begin May 6, 2024 and should last roughly eight weeks.
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He’s accused of shooting and killing eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families “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.
Billy has been imprisoned since his family’s arrest for the murders in November of 2018.
Wednesday’s hearing focused on Billy’s defense attorney’s request that his trial be moved out of Pike County, citing an unlikeliness to be able to seat an unbiased jury, particularly after his son, George Wagner IV, was found guilty in the same Pike County courtroom in November 2022.
Defense attorneys pointed to how small and close-knit the county is and told Judge Robert Alan Corbin the coverage of George’s trial, including accusations leveled against Billy by witnesses who testified, compromised Billy’s ability to have a fair trial within Pike County.
Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa argued that years have passed since Angela and Jake pleaded guilty and over a year will have passed between when George was convicted and Billy begins his trial; Canepa also pointed to the fact that Angela and Jake both opted out of being recorded during their testimonies at George’s trial, so their comments were not broadcast.
Canepa also said that during jury selection for George’s trial, only around 1% of prospective jurors within Pike County were even seen before a satisfactory jury was seated.
Corbin said he did not plan to announce his decision on the motion to change the trial venue in court Wednesday. Instead, he said he planned to refresh his memory on a few cases relevant to the arguments and issue a written decision “fairly soon,” though he did not give a specific date or time.
The retired Brown County common pleas judge was assigned the Pike County murder cases by the Ohio State Supreme Court following the retirement of Judge Randy Deering, who presided over the trial of Billy’s son, George Wagner IV, in the fall of 2022.
Currently, Billy still faces the death penalty. His wife, Angela and son, Jake have both entered plea bargains with the prosecution that would lift those specifications in exchange for their testimony in trial; the same deal was struck for George’s trial.
This story was originally published by Scripps News Cincinnati, an E.W. Scripps Company.