Multiple crime scenes current focus of Pike County murder trial testimony

WAVERLY — More testimony about the eight different crime scenes was given Thursday as the trial for a man accused of killing eight people in Pike County in 2016 continued into its ninth day of witnesses on the stand.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Opening statements begin in Pike County murder trial. NOTE: Camera and audio may occasionally drop during the stream. Per judge’s order, witnesses may opt out of being recorded during this trial.

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.

Before the jury was brought in on Thursday, attorneys and prosecutors met with Judge Randy Deering to argue a motion requesting declaration of a mistrial filed by George’s defense.

Attorney John Parker argued that the prosecutors’ continued display of graphic photos depicting the victims and their wounds could prejudice the jury, because the prosecution’s case against George is predominantly about complicity; prosecutors have said George’s brother, Jake — who took a plea deal in 2021 — will testify that George was present for the murders, but never pulled a trigger.

Prosecution argued the photos are necessary for the state’s burden of proof, because they have to prove to the jury the murders occurred before they can argue whether George was complicit. The state of the victims’ bodies also proves to corroborate any statements Jake may make on the witness stand when the prosecution calls him later in the trial. As a part of the plea deal accepted by Jake — and his mother, Angela — testimony is mandatory in order to remove the death penalty specification.

Before the court broke for lunch, Bryan White, former agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations took the witness stand to describe the third scene, in which Dana, Chris Jr. and Hanna May were found dead.

Outside of the home, White said agents located and collected two cigarette butts from the front yard and a $5 bill found lying in the back yard. One of the cigarette butts tested positive for Hanna May’s DNA, while the other didn’t have enough DNA on it for analysis. The $5 bill also did not have enough DNA on it to provide an accurate comparison, according to Angie Canepa, special prosecutor.

Inside the house, White said there was no evidence collected from common areas like the living room or kitchen.

The front door, which had a storm door and a heavier door, appeared to be undamaged, White said. A back door, located off of an addition made to the trailer, was covered with plastic that had been stapled into the frame. It hadn’t been opened in quite some time, White said, and the plastic surrounding it wasn’t torn or damaged in any way.

The first bedroom White said he documented was where the body of 16-year-old Chris Jr. was found, lying on his stomach in bed, with at least one gunshot wound in the back of his head. He was covered with a blanket, but not entirely; White said blood could be seen further down on Chris Jr.’s shoulder, indicating there was no covering on him to absorb it.

White said he also documented and collected what appeared to be blood on a spot of carpet near one of the walls of the bedroom.

The second bedroom investigators documented was that of Dana Rhoden, White said.

Dana was lying in the bed, covered by comforters and pillows. On her nightstand appeared to be a work scheduled for an STNA; in the first week of testimony, prosecutors said Dana had worked a double shift that day.

“Once the flower-printed comforter was removed, we found who was identified as Dana Rhoden lying on her back in the bed, a pillow covering her face and then a pillow on her right-hand side,” said White.

When they removed the pillow, it was evident that Dana had also been shot to death, White said.

“We could tell that there was at least one gunshot wound that we could tell right away,” he said.

After removing more of the bedding and inspecting her body, White said it became evident Dana was shot at least three times in the head and face areas.

The third bedroom processed was that of Hanna May, where the young mother had been found with her days-old baby still alive, lying next to her in the bed. During opening statements, prosecutors said Hanna May had been nursing the baby when she was killed. First responders testified during the first week that the baby was removed from the bed by an EMT the morning the bodies were discovered.

White said they took time to document the positioning of Hanna May, who was lying with one breast exposed and one covered up. Among some pillows on the floor, White said they found one with apparent blood stains on its casing.

Earlier in the week, prosecutors questioned witnesses about the first two crime scenes; first, the home in which Chris Sr. and Gary were found dead, then the second home where Hannah Hazel and Frankie were discovered.

WCPO is a content partner of Cox First Media.

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