WAVERLY — The Pike County trial of George Wagner IV, accused of helping his family kill eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016, has reached Day 23 today, Oct. 13.
The jurors will hear the recorded investigation questioning of Wagner’s brother, Jake, which took five hours.
On Wednesday, Bureau of Criminal Investigation Agent Ryan Scheiderer testified that the Wagner family became suspects in the killings of eight members of Pike County’s Rhoden family when agents discovered a firearm that killed five of them was shot at their Peterson Road residence.
That connection helped agents zero in on the Wagners.
George, Jake and their parents Billy and Angela are all accused in the murders. Jake and Angela took plea deals and are expected to testify later in this trial, which is expected to go on for a couple more weeks.
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Prosecutors say the killings were committed by the Wagners because of a custody dispute between Jake Wagner and victim Hanna May Rhoden. They share a daughter.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors have maintained the Wagners were obsessed with getting control of the girl, who was unharmed in the killings. They said the family spent months planning the murders and purchased masks, ammunition and even phone-jamming devices. The brothers dyed their hair a week prior to the massacre.
In this trial, the defense says George had nothing to do with the planning and execution of the murders. They say he is simply a suspect because he is a Wagner.
Scheiderer told the courtroom Wednesday that shoeprints at the homicide scenes matched shoes Angela Wagner had purchased at a local Walmart, again pointing agents to someone at their home on Peterson Road.
The BCI agent said they got wire tap permission and tapped the phones of the Wagners, and also secured a warrant to wire-tap their vehicle.
The Wagners were living in Alaska at the time they became suspects. Agents worked with law enforcement in Montana, a state the Wagners traveled through to get back to Ohio, to bring them in for questioning. When six Wagners showed up in one vehicle at the Montana border, they were taken to a border patrol post and into separate rooms for interviews.
Children who were with the Wagners were baby-sat by investigators, who allowed them to play.
Also in testimony given Wednesday, BCI Analyst Julia Eveslage showed text messages between the defendant’s parents in which they discussed George’s fighting with his brother, Jake. There were also text messages between Jake and Angela that had Angela expressing anger that Hanna May Rhoden had the ears of her daughter with Jake pierced.
Texts between Billy and Angela showed Billy wanted Angela to stay with him more than the grandchildren and sons. She asked Billy not to make her choose between her husband and her grandkids.
Eveslage on the stand Wednesday said the words “pink bunnies” and “sprinkls” were code words in text messages the Wagners used when referencing parts to make gun silencers. Texts were shown that have Angela using those words when messaging her son Jake.
On Tuesday of this week, more evidence was presented by agents with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. BCI agent Perry Roeser showed the jurors guns found at the Flying W farm, a property owned by George Wagner IV’s grandmother, Fredericka. Defense attorney John Parker repeatedly objected, saying the weapons being shown were not used in the killings. He was overruled by the judge every time.
WCPO’s Courtney Francisco contributed to this report.
Those found dead on April 22, 2016 include 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.
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