Jury hears opening statements in Pike County murder trial

WAVERLY — The first trial in the Pike County murders case began today after previously being canceled.

George Wagner IV’s trial was delayed last week due to illness, the Pike County Common Pleas Court announced.

>>Pike County Murders: Jury officially seated for trial of a Wagner family member

George Wagner IV was previously indicted on multiple counts of aggravated murder, as well as other charges. He’s been accused of killing hanna Rhoden, 19; her father, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his wife, Dana Rhoden, 37; their sons, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Frankie’s fiancé, hanna Gilley, 20; and relatives Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and Gary Rhoden, 38, execution style in April 2016.

The jury for the trial was selected at the end of August. Jurors, nine women, and three men were taken on tours of relevant sites in the case.

News Center 7 was in court Monday and witnessed a heavily armed caravan bring Wagner to the courthouse.

Angela Canepa, special prosecuting attorney brought in from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, told the jury the Wagner “murdered eight people who did not deserve to die.”

Canepa walked the jury through the entire timeline during an opening statement that lasted almost three hours.

During opening statements, prosecutors discussed the ongoing custody battle that Wagner’s younger brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner, had with hanna Rhoden. She said the Wagners, brothers George and Jake, as well at their parents Billy and Angela, wanted to make sure hanna would not get custody of their three-year-old daughter.

Prosecutors said the Wagners were aware of a statement hanna made on social media about the child’s custody just weeks before the killings.

“‘I will not sign papers, they will have to kill me first, not Jake, they,’' Canepa read.

Prosecutors said the Wagners knew about that private social media post because they allegedly stole the passwords of the person hanna sent that message to.

Wagner’s lawyers disputed the prosecution’s claims and said that their client is not believed to have killed anyone.

“The state wants to paint a broad brush against the Wagners...George can’t help he’s a Wagner, but that doesn’t make him a murderer,” Richard Nash, Wagner’s defense attorney, said.

Ohio law allows people involved in planning and carrying out a crime to be charged with that crime. Prosecutors said hanna was their main target, but they would stop at nothing to take anyone out that might be able to connect them to the crime.

“They meant to kill some of the people, others were killed simply because they were there,” Canepa said.

Jake pleaded guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder and a list of other charges for his role in April 2021. Five months later, Angela Wagner pleaded guilty to her role in the killings. As part of their plea deals, they will have to testify in George and Billy’s trials.

A date has not been set for Billy Wagner’s trial.

We’ll continue to update this story as we learn more.

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