Prosecutor: Killers of 8 Wanted No Witnesses Left

Defense says defendant isn't like others in accused Ohio family
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 12, 2022 5:06 PM CDT
Trial Begins in Killings of 8 in Ohio Family
George Wagner IV walks into the courtroom at the Pike County Courthouse for his arraignment in 2018.   (Robert McGraw/The Chillicothe Gazette via AP, Pool, File)

A custody dispute between two families that erupted into the massacre of eight people in rural southern Ohio started with a plan to kill just one of them, a young mother refusing to give up her daughter, a prosecutor said Monday. But months before the killings in 2016, the family behind the plot decided to kill everyone who could point the finger at them, the prosecutor said during opening statements of the first trial in the slayings. Now six years later, per the AP, George Wagner IV faces the death penalty if he's convicted in the slayings of the Rhoden family near Piketon.

His younger brother, Jake Wagner, last year pleaded guilty to shooting five of the victims, and is expected to testify against his brother as part of a deal with prosecutors that spared him from being sentenced to death. Their mother, Angela Wagner, also pleaded guilty to helping plan the slayings and is also expected to testify. Jake and George's father, George "Billy" Wagner III, has pleaded not guilty. He likely won't go on trial until next year. Special prosecutor Angela Canepa did not accuse George Wagner, 30, of shooting anyone in April 2016, but she said he took part in planning, carrying out, and covering up "one of the most heinous crimes in Ohio history."

He was with his brother and father when they drove to three separate locations where all eight were killed, went inside with the pair, and helped his brother move two of the bodies, Canepa said. Some of the victims were treated as "collateral damage" by the Wagners, she said. "They knew that there might be other people there and agreed they would need to be killed too," she said. Defense attorney Richard Nash said George Wagner is not like the rest of his family and had nothing to do with the killings. "George cannot help he's a Wagner," Nash said. "That does not make him a murderer." He said Jake Wagner will testify that his brother didn't take part in the planning, didn't destroy evidence, and didn't shoot anyone. "Everyone had a motive in this case except George," Nash said. (Past coverage of the slayings can be found here.)

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