OH v. WAGNER: Ohio Family Massacre Trial

Posted at 11:12 PM, August 26, 2022 and last updated 9:40 AM, September 29, 2022

PIKE COUNTY, Ohio (Court TV) — A jury of 12 heard opening statements Sept. 12 in one of the most notorious cases of mass murder in Ohio state history.

They will be asked to decide the fate of George Wagner IV who, along with his brother, Jake and their parents — Angela and George III — are all charged in the shooting deaths of eight members of the Rhoden family, who were killed execution-style in April 2016. Investigators described the massacre as “cold and calculated.”

 

Prosecutors say it all stemmed from a custody dispute over the daughter of Jake Wagner and 19-year-old Hanna May Rhoden. Hanna was one of the victims, along with her parents, 40-year-old Chris and 37-year-old Dana. Her uncle Kenneth, 44, cousin Gary, 38, and 16-year-old brother Christopher Jr. were also killed.

Also among the victims, Hanna’s older brother Clarence, 20, and his fiancée Hannah Gilley, 20. All the victims were shot in the head, according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

Hanna and Jake’s child, along with one other child, were the only lives spared.

Investigators found the bodies in four separate homes spread across three locations more than 20 miles apart. Pike County investigators believe the complex crime scenes suggested a coordinated attack.

The investigation took two years before arrests were made.

George Wagner IV, 30, stands with his attorneys, John P. Parker, left, and Richard M. Nash in Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio, Monday September 12, 2022. He is charged with 22 counts, eight of them are aggravated murder, in connection with the murder of eight members of the Rhoden family on April 21-22, 2016 in Pike County. (Court TV)

“At the center of this case are members of one family, who we believe the evidence will show conspired together to kill these eight people, eight of their friends,” authorities said in a press conference.

Prosecutors say the Wagners studied their victim’s habits and locations exact cold calculated revenge.

After reaching plea deals with the state, George Wagner IV’s mother Angela, and younger brother Jake are expected to testify against him. According to a recent plea hearing, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for Jake in exchange for his testimony against his father and brother, who will also be spared the death penalty if Jake testifies “truthfully” to the satisfaction of the state.

Angela Wagner, the matriarch of the family, also pleaded guilty. In exchange for her testimony, she will serve a term of 30 years.

The family’s testimony could work against them, however, as the defense is expected to argue George Wagner’s innocence based on his brother’s own confession. The Wagner family’s father will also stand trial later this year.

Court TV is covering the proceedings of Ohio v. George Wagner IV gavel-to-gavel.

DAILY TRIAL HIGHLIGHTS

DAY 15 – 9/28/22

DAY 14 – 9/27/22

DAY 13 – 9/26/22

DAY 12 – 9/23/22

  • Lt. Bryan White, Madison County Sheriff’s Office, continued his testimony. White was assigned to crime scene #3.
  • Dr. Karen Looman, the Chief Deputy Coroner of Hamilton County continued her testimony.
  • WATCH: Ohio Family Massacre Trial: Deputy Coroner Testifies

DAY 11 – 9/22/22

  • The defense motioned for a mistrial, the judge denied it once again.
  • Lt. Bryan White, Madison County Sheriff’s Office, took the stand. White was assigned to crime scene #3.
  • WATCH: Ohio Family Massacre Trial: Day 11 

DAY 10 – 9/21/22

DAY 9 – 9/20/22

DAY 8 – 9/19/22

  • Shane Hanshaw continued to walk the jury through the crime scene evidence Monday
  • BCI agent Todd Fortner, who was assigned to the crime scene unit, takes the stand
  • WATCH: Ohio Family Massacre Trial: Day 8

DAY 7 – 9/16/22

DAY 6 – 9/15/22

  • Darryl Hart
    • Formerly paramedic for Portsmith Ambulance
    • On April 22, 2016, was dispatched to Union Hill Rd.
    • Found a baby in one of the homes, took the baby out, cared for it because it looked “sluggish,” had “slight movements,” though the “bottom of foot perked up”
    • It was “very very young”
  •  Donald Stone
    • Kenneth’s cousin (Kenneth’s mother and his father are siblings)
    • Said when he was down and out, Kenneth was there to help him
    • On April 22, 2016, he was at an HUD appointment, then started to make phone calls and tried to reach Kenneth
    • Went to the church where everyone was gathered estimated 150 people to be there
    • Later walked up to Kenneth’s door, told Luke to go in first because Kenneth was Luke’s dad
    • Left Sean Watson by the car
    • Found that the door was unlocked
    • Walked up the stairway to the right, found Kenneth, he had blood over his eyes, he was in his bed dead, went straight out the back door, drove up the street to call 911 because he couldn’t get signal at Kenneth’s house
    • The 911 call is played out in court
    • WATCH: Ohio Family Massacre: Jury Hears 911 Call from Family Member
    • On cross-examination, Stone testified Kenneth was well off, gave money when it was needed
    • Kenneth trafficked marijuana
  • Luke Rhoden
    • Son of Kenneth Rhoden
    • His parents divorced when he was 14 – 15 years old
    • Saw Kenneth 3 – 4x per week
    • Said Kenneth usually showered at Chris’ then went to Columbus to work
    • Kenneth grew marijuana at the bottom of the shack on the property
    • Said he helped trim the marijuana
    • Didn’t know the Wagners a lot, though Jake once talked to him about a tattoo
    • Met George once, during that one time, he (Luke) went swimming in a pond with him (George), his woman, Hanna, Jake
    • Met Billy once
    • Knew Frankie, became closer with Frankie when they got older, knew Frankie did derby car racing, chicken fighting, and hunted
    • On April 22, 2016, his (Luke’s) mom told him to get up because Chris and everyone got shot up on the hill, she received the news from a phone call
    • Said he first arrived at Frankie’s then later gathered at a church
    • Said he tried to contact his father, didn’t receive any news back
    • Said Kenneth worked at U.S. Utilities
    • Cousins = Donald Stone and Sean Watson
    • Donald was the one who broke the news to him (Luke) that Kenneth had been shot
    • Saw his father’s leg, top of head, couldn’t see his face because he had a blanket on him, just his forehead and hair
    • Knows Brett Hatfield
    • Dog = Brownie (Is inside at night, is outside during the day)
    • Said Kenneth locks the place when he leaves
    • WATCH: Ohio Family Massacre Trial: Luke Rhoden Talks to Court TV
  • Cross-examination
    • The people who went swimming at the pond = Luke, Jake, Hanna, George, George’s ex
    • Said Frankie did not go swimming at the pond
    • Said he helped pack Kenneth’s rocks, dumped them, said they’re used to grow marijuana because there’s water in rocks (hydroponics), said this creates higher grade marijuana
    • Said this marijuana is sold $2,600 per pound, then changed this statement to be a range of $2,800 – $3,000 per pound
    • Said the products of Kenneth’s plants are moved out every 3 – 4 months to Chris’ house
    • Said Kenneth was going to leave and give the land to Chris
    • Doesn’t know why Kenneth would get out of the business
    • Said Gary previously dealt with the marijuana transactions
  • Brett Hatfield
    • Works in U.S. utilities
    • Brett and Frankie were in the same vocational school, Frankie studied welding
    • Brett and Frankie went to work together
    • Brett met Frankie at Union Hill church
    • Brett met Kenneth because they lived next door to each other, before he met Frankie
    • Brett knew the Rhodens, thought Dana was strict, said Frankie smoked marijuana
    • Brett last saw Kenneth when he dropped off on .22 magnum off at Kenneth’s house
    • On April 22, 2016, “I was supposed to pick him (Kenneth) up from work that day,” we were supposed to leave around 4:00 AM for work, it took 45 minutes – 1 hour to get to work, went to bed at midnight probably
    • On April 22, 2016, Brett “pulled into the driveway” of Kenneth’s house, said Kenneth’s never came to the door, thought Kenneth went to the hospital because he had previously talked about his blood pressure
    • On April 22, 2016, “Jake had called me and asked me if I had heard anything”
    • Said Donald Stone told him the news that Kenneth was dead, ended up going to the church, after went to go look for surveillance cams on Kenneth’s property to see who had been there, though there were no cams that day
    • Knows the Wagners through Chris and Frankie
    • Said the Wagners burned down their house for money
  • On cross-examination,
    • “Sometimes he wouldn’t, sometimes he would” (Kenneth) lock his door, it could be locked from the inside
    • Chris’ marijuana growth cycle = 90 days, could produce 30 lbs of marijuana if he was lucky, it would take two weeks to sell
    • One time, Chris won a cockfight for $30,000
    • One time, saw Chris with $40,000 in a black bag
    • One time, Chris was supposed to go west to Cincinnati with Billy to bring back a load of drugs, though he didn’t end up going
    • Said he didn’t know who Big Money Mike was
    • Chris didn’t have a large amount of cocaine, “If he had it, I almost guarantee you he wasn’t selling it”
  • On redirect,
    • Isn’t sure if Billy went to Cincinnati
    • Said Billy told someone named Charlie something about the Cincinnati deal out west, thought Charlie would come forward with this information
  • Beau Romine
    • In 2016, worked at the sheriff’s office as a transport correction officer
    • On April 22, 2016, he was dispatched to Union Hill Rd., though he didn’t go into the properties, was told to go back to the sheriff’s office and handle calls, was then told to go to the post office, was then told to go to Kenneth’s house address
    • Entered Ken’s residence, saw Kenneth’s body – just the shoes, because the rest of his body was covered with a blanket
    • Said Luke’s response was “shock, very emotional, angry kind of”

DAY 5 – 9/14/22

  • Deputy Adam Ball
    • Went to 2nd location (Frankie’s house), entered residence, tried to avoid blood on the floor, found two victims on the floor, checked for a neck pulse
    • Went to 3rd location (Dana’s house), found younger male laying on his stomach, facing away from the door, “I could hear a baby crying,” found a female in bed “she was deceased laying on her back,” found a third victim
    • At the 3rd location, found a marijuana nursery (small plants)
    • On cross-examination, Bell testified what he found was a professional growth operation, it was “extensive,” there were facilities and security cameras, “the building was full” (of marijuana)
  • Ofc. Morgan Music
    • Went to crime scene, found two deceased males
    • Also found a marijuana, this was in a semi-trailer and in a green building
  • Tracy Evans
    • On April 22, 2016, was a major in the Sheriff’s investigative unit
    • Heard a code 8 (assault), went to one of the scenes, ordered an officer to secure the scene
    • Met with Bobbi Jo, who said there were more deceased
    • Went to a second location and found three deceased people and a “small, small infant” that looked “months” old
    • Called BCI to process the scene
  • Timothy Dickerson
  • Gary Mosley
    • On April 22, 2016, was a patrolman, worked traffic control
    • Dispatched to Union Hill
    • With the help of a diagram, Mosley indicates the scenes he walked through and where one had a line of sight into a bedroom from the hallway
  • Miranda Cable
    • On April 22, 2016, worked as a paramedic and station manager for Portsmith Ambulance
    • Dispatched to Union Hill
    • Thought it was a possible domestic violence case, heard it’s possible someone was dead on the scene, maybe there was an assault
    • Ultimately visited three scenes
    • Transported Ruger to the hospital. He had blood on his head, arms, and legs. Thought there were no visible injuries
    • WATCH: Ohio Family Massacre Trial: Paramedic Testifies 
  • WATCH: Ohio Family Massacre Trial: Day 5

DAY 4 – 9/13/22

  • Bobbi Manley – discovered victims’ bodies
    • Took care of Chris Rhoden Sr.’s animals
    • Went to the home on April 22, 2016
      • Noticed blood on the floor of the hallway
      • Found Chris, deceased, by his bed on the floor and called 911
      • Gary Rhoden was on the floor near Chris
      • Went to Frankie Rhoden’s house to tell him his dad was dead, and found Frankie and Hazel deceased
      • The jury hears Bobbi’s 911 call
  • Billy Morgan – discovered victims’ bodies
    • Longtime friend of Bobbi Manley, formerly employed by Chris Rhoden Sr.
    • Went to Chris Rhoden’s home on April 22, 2016
      • Found Chris and another person deceased on the floor
  • James Manley – Brother of Dana Rhoden
  • Dept. Jonathan Chandler
    • On April 22, 2016, was dispatched to one of the scenes
    • Observed a baby: “The baby was covered head to toe in blood”
    • Noticed the demeanor of the family: “They were very frantic, very upset, very emotional”
    • Noticed two individuals covered in blood (Frankie and Hazel), they were in their underwear, they appeared to have wounds to the head, the male had bruising to the face
  • Justin Waring – Paramedic
    • Dispatched to the scene on April 22, 2016
      • Arrived at Frankie and Hazel’s house
      • Was told by an officer that two people on site were deceased and was escorted to a bedroom
      • Began treating the area like a crime scene and gathered the names of the deceased for his report
      • Observed two children (Brentley and Ruger)
      • Attended to Ruger: said Ruger acted appropriately, was just covered in blood

DAY 3 – 9/12/22

DAY 2 – 9/1/22

  • The jury’s tour of the crime scenes and locations that prosecutors considered pertinent to the Rhoden family massacre, ended Thursday afternoon at a county impound lot where the victims’ living quarters had been towed and stored. Jurors were led into a white barn-like structure that housed the homes where eight members of the Rhoden family were shot and killed.
  • Reporters were excluded from visiting the Rhoden trailer homes, as well as the sprawling horse breeding ranch owned by the defendant’s grandmother Fredericka Wagner and a house formerly owned by another Wagner family members. The owners of the private properties told police they would not permit media representatives to traverse their land.
  • Jurors  crisscrossed the rural roads of Pike county aboard a school bus, visiting four sites that were part of a list of locations that would take two full days to cover. Prosecutors allege that these locations yielded evidence of the murder-spree carried out by George Wagner IV, the defendant, his brother, and his father. Jurors were out for nearly eight hours, before returning to the courthouse to receive an admonishment to avoid media about the case, before being  dismissed for the holiday weekend. Monday’s jury view took more than 10 hours, which included visiting the properties where the victims were murdered.
  • Judge Randy Deering issued a ruling against the defense who sought to suppress text messages made by Hanna Rhoden. Hanna, the mother of Jake Wagner’s daughter allegedly sparked the murderous rampage after she refused to cave in to pressure to give up custody of their child.
  • Her message to the defendant’s former mother-in-law, “I won’t sign papers ever, it won’t happen, they will have to kill me first,” is expected to play a key role in the state’s case, Shortly after she wrote the message, the Wagners allegedly began hatching a plan to kill the Rhodens.
  • Opening statements are scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 6.
  • WATCH: Ohio Family Massacre Trial: Jury Finishes Viewing Crime Scenes | Court TV Video

DAY 1 – 8/31/22

  • After jurors were sworn in, they boarded a bus that took them to ground zero of the Rhoden family massacre. The first stop 4077 Union Hill Road, where jurors were escorted onto a grassy field, where a barn marked by faded  pictures of the Rhoden family stood. Here is where the attack first started with Chris Rhoden Sr. and cousin Gary Rhoden shot to death in a mobile home.
  • Further up the road jurors viewed a second property, where a broken down wooden platform and cinder blocks indicated where a trailer home once rested.  Here detectives recovered the bodies of Frankie Rhoden and his fiancée, Hannah Gilley.
  • Continuing along Union Hill Road about 1.5 miles from the first 2 properties was a third property with a red barn —another kill site – where three more bodies were found. Among the dead Dana Rhoden, her son Chris Jr., and her daughter Hanna Rhoden – the woman at the center of the custody dispute with the defendant’s brother that allegedly provoked the slaughter.
  • Several miles into dense woods, the jury bus came to rest at the bottom of a fork in a gravel road. The left side of the fork was appropriately called ‘Left Fork Road,’ the location of the fourth crime scene. Unless you were familiar with the road, the only way one could find it in the night would have been via satellite GPS. Few road signs or street lamps appeared anywhere to help navigate.
  • Jurors were directed down a driveway into an area where a camper was located. From the clearing at the top of the road it would have been difficult to even see the camper, but in 2016 Kenneth Rhoden, another member of the family was shot and killed.
  • The road tour continued after lunch with a visit to the former home of the Wagner family on Peterson Road.
  • The final stop, jurors viewed a large structure about 6 miles away, a storage facility where reportedly the Wagners stored their belongings before moving to Alaska.
  • WATCH: Ohio Family Massacre Trial: Jury Views Crime Scenes 

 

 

Court TV Legal Correspondent Chanley Painter, Digital Managing Editor Beth Hemphill and Senior Director of Courtroom Coverage Grace Wong contributed to this report. 

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