Pike County murder trial Day 4: Testimony centers on final Rhoden victim found

WAVERLY, Ohio — On the fourth day of trial for a man accused of killing eight people in Pike County in 2016, first responders and family members of the victims took the witness stand.

Much of Thursday’s testimony centered around the eighth and final member of the Rhoden family to be found dead, Kenneth Rhoden.

George Wagner IV — along with his mother Angela, father George “Billy” Wagner and brother Edward “Jake” Wagner — is accused of shooting and killing the Rhoden family members “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.

The trial is the first time a person has faced a jury for the deaths of the Rhoden family six years ago.

On Thursday, prosecution started proceedings by calling Darryl Hart, a former EMT, to the stand. Hart currently works as a dispatcher, but on April 22, 2016, he was a paramedic with Pike County EMS.

That day, Hart said his first dispatch of the morning was to an address on Union Hill Road, though he couldn’t remember how the call was originally identified. When he arrived at what he would later learn was Dana Rhoden’s trailer, he said a deputy was already on scene.

The deputy told him there was a baby still alive inside the house, Hart said.

He followed the deputy inside, immediately heading back into the house and into a bedroom, where he could see the body of Hanna May lying on a bed, a baby lying “snuggled up close” to her, he said.

The baby was sluggish, but responded when he flicked it on the bottom of the foot, he said.

Hart said he picked the baby up from the bed and took her outside to the ambulance to give her oxygen. He changed her diaper because he said it was soaked with blood, and bagged the diaper and wipes up for evidence.

Hart didn’t go on any other runs that day and he said he was the only EMT to step inside Dana’s home.

The man who discovered Kenneth Rhoden dead in his camper on Left Fork Road took the witness stand next, opting in to be recorded.

Donald Stone, Kenneth’s cousin, said he didn’t learn about the discovery of seven bodies inside the Rhodens’ homes until someone brought it up that morning.

“I had a HUD appointment that morning and I talked to a gentleman while I was there and he asked me if I’d heard what happened on Union Hill,” he said.

After that, Stone said he went home and started making phone calls to family. Attempts to reach Kenneth Rhoden and Kenneth’s son, Luke, went unanswered, so Stone said he went to a nearby church on Union Hill Road, where family members had begun to gather after news spread.

When he got to the church, he met up with Luke, who suggested driving to Kenneth’s house to check on him.

When they arrived, Donald said he insisted Luke go inside first.

“I told him ‘this is your dad’s place, you need to go in first,’” he said.

He said while Luke entered the camper first, Stone took the stairs to the right and headed up to where Kenneth slept each night — and discovered him dead in his bed.

“There’s blood all over his face,” Stone said to Luke.

During his testimony, Stone was emotional and burst into tears as prosecution showed photos of the crime scene to him.

Luke testified next, mirroring much of what Stone said. He said he went into the camper first, but Donald stopped him and told him Kenneth was dead and they needed to leave.

Prosecution prodded Luke about his relationship with the Wagner family; he said there wasn’t much of one, though he’d been swimming with the younger Wagners and he was aware of them.

Luke recounted a time when his uncle, Chris Sr., lent Billy Wagner a backhoe to use, but the backhoe wouldn’t start. Luke said he, his uncle and his father drove to Billy’s property with tarps and space heaters to get it warmed up enough to start.

While they worked, Luke said Billy came to stand next to him.

“‘You see those two people?’” Luke claimed Billy said to him. “They’re good people, but if I ever had to f*** with them, I’d have to shoot them.”

Luke, who was close with his cousin Frankie, said otherwise he didn’t know the Wagners well, but knew Frankie and George hunted together and were friends.

The prosecution spent time with both Stone and Luke, asking them to point out locations of cameras that were allegedly placed throughout Kenneth’s property — including in a shed on the property that was being used to grow marijuana.

During cross examination, defense attorneys fixated on the marijuana grow operations while questioning both Stone and Luke about the Rhoden’s enterprise. Both men were candid and said they were well aware of Chris Sr. and Kenneth’s grow facilities, including how much they regularly made from harvests.

Defense attorneys asked both Luke and the next witness, Brett Hatfield, about someone called “Big Money Mike,” though both men denied knowing the identity of that person. Both mentioned they’d heard the name.

Hatfield, a family friend who knew Kenneth and went to school with Frankie, testified next, but declined to be recorded. Hatfield worked in Columbus at the same company as Kenneth, so the pair often carpooled to work, he said.

They didn’t drive to work together on the morning of April 22, 2016, however. The day before, Hatfield said Kenneth had been complaining of high blood pressure — a condition Luke said made him very sick and could cause him to miss work.

When Hatfield arrived at Kenneth’s home at around 4 a.m. the morning of April 22, he said there were no lights on and Kenneth didn’t come out like he normally did. Despite Kenneth’s vehicle being parked in the drive, Hatfield said he assumed Kenneth had gone to the hospital for his blood pressure issue, and he left.

Hours later, a member of the Rhoden family called him to tell him about the murder of the other seven Rhodens.

Hatfield said he immediately left Columbus and came back to Pike County. He said he headed to Kenneth’s after touching base at the church on Union Hill where the family had gathered. Once there, he ran into Stone and Luke, and Stone told him Kenneth was also dead.

Hatfield said he immediately began walking around the property to check the cameras he knew Kenneth kept around, but many were missing.

They asked Hatfield about Kenneth’s dog, which Luke and Stone said was still inside the camper when they arrived.

“It’d bite about anybody,” said Hatfield. “That dog’d bite you whether it knew you or not” unless a person called its name.

Defense attorneys cross-examined Hatfield, focusing in again on Kenneth’s grow facility and how much money he and Chris Sr. regularly made from harvests.

The final witness, who also opted out of recording, was Beau Romine, a part-time Pike County Sheriff’s Deputy who was dispatched to Kenneth’s home on April 22, 2016.

He said when he arrived at the property on Left Fork Road, he and a second deputy searched and cleared the camper. The other deputy stepped upstairs and saw Kenneth lying dead in bed and backed out, telling Romine they needed to lock the crime scene down. Romine did not get close enough to Kenneth to identify his injuries, but said at the foot of the bed he could see a pair of shoes, pants on the bed and assorted dollar bills lying around.

Romine then interviewed the people who were at Kenneth’s house, before being called to the church. He said he was told to go to the church and take a female to a safer location. When asked if that female was an adult, Romine said he couldn’t recall, but that he’d done what he was asked.

Defense attorneys did not cross examine Romine and court adjourned for the day.

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