“He knows he’s going to die in prison without any judicial release. As horrifying as this is for all, he is as sorry as he could be,” defense attorney Gregory Meyers told the judge.
The killings in April 2016 — at three trailers and a camper near Piketon — terrified residents in the surrounding rural community and prompted one of the most extensive criminal investigations in state history. It took authorities more than two years to announce the arrests.
George Billy Wagner III, Angela Wagner and their son George Billy Wagner IV have pleaded not guilty.
The victims were 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr.; his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; their three children, 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 16-year-old Christopher Jr., and 19-year-old Hanna, the mother of Jake Wagner’s child; Clarence Rhoden’s fiancée, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; and a cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden.
Prosecutors alleged the Wagner family planned the killings for months, motivated by a custody dispute. According to Canepa, Jake Wagner tried to convince Hanna Rhoden to agree to shared custody of their daughter and she refused. Wagner was able to gain access to two Facebook accounts and found a post from Hanna saying she would never agree to those terms.
Jake Wagner began dating Hanna Rhoden when she was 13. She became pregnant when she was 15, Canepa said.
The family after the slayings were questioned by authorities at the U.S.-Canadian border, where a laptop was seized. Forged documents were found on the computer purporting that Hanna Rhoden had agreed to shared custody.
The Wagners took phones from six of the victims, as well as a recording device and trail cameras, Canepa said.
The Wagners used guns with two homemade silencers, allowing them to kill their victims as they slept, Canepa said. Parts from a failed effort to build a silencer were found on the Wagners' property, she said.
Most of the victims were repeatedly shot in the head, and some showed signs of bruising. Three young children at the scenes were unharmed.
According to Canepa, shell casings found at the Wagners' home matched those found at the murder scenes. Investigators also found a shoe of the same size and tread that matched a shoe print found a the scene.
A relative, Tony Rhoden Sr., has sued the suspects, saying he wanted to be sure none of them benefitted financially from the slayings.
One of his lawyers, Brian K. Duncan, said by email that the family “is grateful for today‘s outcome, as it provides at least some semblance of justice on this day which coincides with the fifth anniversary of these tragic events."
Associated Press Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus contributed to this report.
This story was first published April 22, 2021. It was updated Sept. 14, 2021, to delete a reference to Jake Wagner’s child being one of the three young children found at the scene. Authorities said that his child was staying with the man’s family the night of the killings but that she was not among the three found at the scenes.