WAVERLY, Ohio (WCMH) — A jury on Wednesday found George Wagner IV guilty on all 22 charges for his role in the murders of eight members of the Rhoden family.
Jury deliberations started in the morning, and by the afternoon, had wrapped with a verdict.
It came after three months in court, where family members — including George IV’s mother Angela and brother Edward “Jake” — testified against the defendant, and George IV also took the stand himself to testify in his defense. George IV faced 22 charges for his role in the murders, including:
- Aggravated murder (Kenneth Rhoden): Guilty
- Aggravated murder (Chris Rhoden, Sr.): Guilty
- Aggravated murder (Gary Rhoden): Guilty
- Aggravated murder (Clarance Franklin Rhoden): Guilty
- Aggravated murder (Hannah Hazel Gilley): Guilty
- Aggravated murder (Dana Rhoden): Guilty
- Aggravated murder (Hanna May Rhoden): Guilty
- Aggravated murder (Christopher Rhoden, Jr.): Guilty
- Conspiracy: Guilty
- Aggravated burglary (Camper at 1084 Left Fork Road in Rarden, Ohio): Guilty
- Aggravated burglary (Home at 4199 Union Hill Road in Piketon, Ohio): Guilty
- Aggravated burglary (Home at 4077 Union Hill Road in Piketon, Ohio): Guilty
- Aggravated burglary (Home at 3122 Union Hill Road in Piketon, Ohio): Guilty
- Unlawful possession of dangerous ordnance: Guilty
- Tampering with evidence (Phones/cameras belonging to victims): Guilty
- Tampering with evidence (Custody documents): Guilty
- Tampering with evidence (Silencer and/or shell casings and/or parts of a home security system): Guilty
- Forgery: Guilty
- Unauthorized use of property: Guilty
- Interception of wire, oral or electronic communications: Guilty
- Obstructing justice: Guilty
- Engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity: Guilty
Full reading of verdict
Under Ohio law, aggravated murder indicates causing the death of another person “with prior calculation and design,” unlike the plain charge of murder.
The night of April 21 and the morning of April 22, 2016, eight members of the Rhoden family were fatally shot — most more than once and while they were sleeping. They included Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Dana Rhoden, 37; Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Hanna Rhoden, 19; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Hannah Gilley, 20; Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and Gary Rhoden, 38.
At the time, the Pike County Sheriff’s Office said three young children, including a baby, were found unharmed.
Outside the courthouse after the verdict, members of the Rhoden family offered their gratitude for law enforcement, prosecutors, and the Pike County community.
“It was very frustrating, but you have to believe,” Tony Rhoden Sr. said.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, then serving as attorney general, announced the arrests of George IV, Jake, Angela, and father George “Billy” Wagner III in November 2018 — more than two years after the Rhodens were first found dead across four Pike County homes and an investigation subsequently began. At the time, DeWine said all four would face the death penalty.
DeWine said in a Wednesday evening press conference in Columbus he had remained convinced the state would eventually solve the case — even through what he said was one of the most “complicated” and “lengthy” investigations in state history for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
“I always believed that we would find the truth, and I always believed that there would be justice,” DeWine said.
He added that while he couldn’t talk for the jury, he felt it said something that a verdict came within eight hours of deliberation beginning.
At a press conference in Pike County, prosecutors thanked the victims’ family and the various law enforcement agencies that pitched in. Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk, at times through tears, said the county could not have solved the case and brought it to trial without the resources that came from around the state.
“We are a poor county. We are still a poor county. But we’ve got a lot of good people here,” Junk said. “There was no way we would have been able to do this alone. No way at all. I just can’t thank everybody enough.”
All four Wagners initially entered not-guilty pleas. The motive behind the massacre stemmed from a custody battle between Jake and Hanna over their daughter, according to prosecutors.
But Jake and Angela have since switched their pleas to guilty, striking a deal where prosecutors would not seek the death penalty if Jake and Angela also testified against George IV and Billy. Jake pleaded guilty to all charges in April 2021, and Angela pleaded guilty to 14 charges — excluding the murder charges — in September 2021.
But George IV will not face the death penalty, either. Judge Randy Deering dismissed that from his case last Tuesday.
George IV maintained his innocence when he took the stand for two days during the weekslong trial, denying he played any role in the crimes. Jake and Angela testified that George IV assisted in planning, executing, and trying to cover them up. Jake also said in court, however, that he and his father were the only two who shot and killed the Rhoden family members; George IV hesitated and did not pull the trigger.
While George IV said he wasn’t involved in the killings, his testimony included knowledge of them. He said agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation were the ones who first revealed his family’s actions to him, and after learning of what they did, he said he then assisted the agents with their investigation.
Judge Randy Deering said they would schedule sentencing at a later date in December.
George “Billy” Wagner III, the patriarch of the family, awaits trial.