George Wagner IV, one of four people charged in the 2016 massacre of the the Rhoden and Gilley families, had nothing to do with the planning or execution of the murders, his attorney told jurors on Monday.
Lawyer Richard Nash laid blame at the feet of his client’s co-defendants. His client’s father George “Billy” Wagner III came up with the idea to commit the killings, while George Wagner IV’s brother Edward “Jake” Wagner and their mother Angela Wagner were brought into the plot and helped plan, the defense maintained.
Jake Wagner was the sole gunman who killed eight people across four different locations in Pike County, Ohio, through the night of April 21, 2016 into the early morning of April 22, Nash said. The victims were:
- Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40
- his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 38,
- their children Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20,
- Christopher Sr.’s cousin Gary Rhoden, 38,
- Sr.’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44,
- and Frankie’s fiancée Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20
Jake Wagner nonetheless implicated his father George Wagner III in killing someone, the attorney said. But Nash told jurors that Jake, who pleaded guilty to murder and agreed to testify, will say that George IV had nothing to do with the planning of these murders, that George IV shot no one, and that George IV did nothing to destroy any evidence. The attorney maintained there is no reliable evidence his client planned these murders, prepared for the murders, or shot any one.
Prosecutor Angie Canepa told jurors on Monday that George IV, his father, and brother all participated in the killings. Angela, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy, received a 30-year sentence in return for testifying, helped plan, she said.
Authorities said the motive was that Jake Wagner wanted custody of the daughter he had with former girlfriend Hanna May Rhoden. He had demanded the child even during the pregnancy, Canepa said. The prosecutor described the Wagner family as being controlling of any woman who entered their circle. For example, there was a woman named Tabitha, who had a child with George IV. Her mother Tessa warned Hanna May Rhoden in a private Facebook message to never sign custody papers with the Wagners.
“I won’t sign papers ever,” Hanna May wrote back. “They’ll have to kill me first.”
Except for Christopher Sr. and Gary, each of the victims were shot in bed or in their sleep. All eight were shot in the head, and all but Kenneth were shot multiple times. Canepa said that the killers went after Hanna May as their primary target, but also went after other people who could figure out the culprits’ identities, like Christopher Sr. They also went after bystanders like Gary.
George Wagner IV could not control what he was born into, though he told investigators that he could not believe his family would carry out violent crimes, defense lawyer Nash said. The attorney described his client as being different from the rest of the family. He described a distance, saying that his client once got into a fistfight with George Wagner III because his client disagreed with how the family functions. Nash blasted Angela as a “con artist” who set fire to her home multiple times to get insurance money. Jake, who was also a professional thief, did the same with vehicles, Nash said.
“They are a pair,” he said.
The attorney also said his client’s father was wrapped up in drugs.
Then there was George Wagner IV. There is no evidence of him having anything to do with drugs, Nash said. At 16, he ran away from home after getting his driver’s license, the attorney said. Though he had to return, he took every opportunity to avoid home as much as he could, Nash said.
As for Tabitha or Tabby as Nash called her, she voluntarily signed an agreement regarding custody of her son with George IV. The former couple had gotten married too young and eventually obtained a dissolution, the lawyer said. Nash told jurors that she refused her mother’s offer to hire an attorney. Tabby reviewed the agreement, went to a courtroom, spoke to a judge and said she accepted the document, Nash said.
George IV had no motive to kill the victims, he said. Frankie Rhoden was among his closest friends, and Hanna May Rhoden was like a little sister to him, the attorney said.
His family members had motive, however, the attorney said. Denying that “custody” had anything to do with it, he said that Angela had unfounded delusions that Hanna and Jake’s young daughter was being molested. Jake, who was an abusive and jealous young man toward Hanna, could not stand that she had moved on with her life and was with other men, Nash said. Angela convinced Jake that the child was at risk of being molested. Regarding father George III, Nash alluded to drugs.
Angela at first suggested turning Christopher Sr. in to the police for drugs, but George III stopped that because it hit too close to home, Nash said. Angela allegedly said that George III suggested that they must kill the Rhoden family. Jake was told. He said that he wanted to frame Hanna’s boyfriend as the killer, but his father said no, Nash said. George III created the plan, and Jake and Angela went along with it, the defense said.
The first time that George IV learned of the killings was on April 22, 2016, Nash said. Unusually, Jake woke up before his brother. They did some work on their family property and eventually received a call from a man named Andrew Carson. According to Nash, Carson told Jake that Hanna May had been murdered with six of her relatives (Kenneth had not been found dead at the time). Jake put on an act worthy of an Academy Award, acting like Carson was the first to tell him, Nash said.
[Screenshot via Law&Crime Network]
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