WAVERLY, Ohio (WCMH) — George Wagner IV no longer faces the death penalty in his trial for the Rhoden family massacre.
The judge’s decision comes as jurors take the week off ahead of closing arguments next week. Judge Randy Deering dismissed the death penalty specifications on Wagner IV’s case while the prosecution and defense were in court Tuesday.
After 11 weeks of evidence, witness testimony and testimony from the defendant himself, both sides rested their cases Friday. Wagner IV took to the stand for two days, claiming he had no knowledge of or involvement in the murders of eight people.
Eight members of the Rhoden family were found dead in Pike County on April 22, 2016. Prosecutors claimed the murders stemmed from a custody dispute over the daughter of Jake Wagner and Hanna May Rhoden, one of the victims. The other victims were Christopher Rhoden Sr., Dana Rhoden, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, Christopher Rhoden Jr., Hannah Gilley, Gary Rhoden, and Kenneth Rhoden.
Investigators accused George “Billy” Wagner III, Angela Wagner, George Wagner IV, and Edward “Jake” Wagner of murder for the deaths. Jake and Angela Wagner both admitted to crimes associated with the killings, and Angela offered her testimony against her son to spare herself from the death penalty.
Although both Jake and Angela Wagner implicated George IV in the planning, execution and attempted coverup of the crimes, on the stand, George IV denied having any role. Instead, Wagner IV claimed agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation revealed his family’s actions to him, and he spied on his family members to aid investigators.
Angela pled guilty in September 2021 to 14 charges, not including murder, and faces 30 years in prison. Jake also pled guilty in 2021 to murder. Under cross-examination in Wagner IV’s trial, Jake told jurors that his brother George argued against killing the Rhodens and hesitated to pull the trigger. The Wagner patriarch, Billy, awaits trial.
Closing arguments are set for Monday, Nov. 28.