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The man accused of helping his relatives carry out the execution-style murders of a rival family has been convicted.
George Wagner IV, 31, was found guilty by a Pike County jury for the 2016 massacre that left eight people shot to death in rural Ohio, according to CBS Cincinnati affiliate WKRC-TV. The decision comes after Wagner’s mother and brother – who accepted plea deals earlier in the case – testified during the 11-week trial, stating Wagner never pulled the trigger.
Though Wagner may not have directly killed the victims, Ohio state allows anyone accused of being complicit in a crime to be charged with the crime itself, according to ABC Cincinnati affiliate WCPO-TV.
Wagner was found guilty of all 22 charges, which included eight counts of aggravated murder. Lesser charges included tampering with evidence, conspiracy, and forgery.
“Good won today,” said prosecuting attorney Rob Junk. “And evil lost.”
George Wagner IV was the first of four Wagner relatives to face trial for the murders of seven members of the Rhoden family, plus that of one of the victim’s fiancées.
Prosecutors maintained the defendant, his younger brother Edward “Jake” Wagner,” and their parents, Angela and George “Billy” Wagner III, all took part in planning the murders, which were committed amidst an ongoing child custody dispute between Jake and one of the victims, 19-year-old Hanna May Rhoden.
The other victims included Hanna’s parents, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, and Dana Manley-Rhoden, 37; brothers Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie Rhoden, 20; and Frankie Rhoden’s fiancée, Hannah Gilley, 20.
Also killed was Christopher Sr.’s cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38, and brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44.
The victims died across several Piketon-area dwellings during an overnight ambush between April 21 and 22, 2016, most shot to death as they slept.
The ensuing investigation was one of the largest in Ohio, resulting in the Wagners’ 2018 arrests.
Jake Wagner, who previously pleaded guilty to eight counts of murder, and his mother, Angela Wagner, who pleaded guilty to lesser charges for helping plan the murders, were both star witnesses in George Wagner IV’s trial.
For their cooperation, prosecutors decided during a procedural hearing last week that they would no longer seek the death penalty against George Wagner IV, according to WCPO-TV.
George "Billy" Wagner III has pleaded not guilty to charges including murder and has yet to go to trial.
Jake testified how he and his father, Billy, allegedly drove around the Rhoden's property and killed each victim. He claimed George IV – who was with them on the night of the murders – was positioned to kill Christopher Rhoden Sr. but froze, prompting Jake to kill him instead of the defendant.
“To be frank, it was a mess,” Jake testified.
Angela Wagner supported much of what Jake said on the stand, testifying the Wagners made the choice – as a family – to kill the rival clan to get custody of Jake and Hanna’s young daughter, Sophia.
Jake and Angela Wagner cited unsubstantiated fears that Sophia could be molested while in Hanna’s custody.
“Nobody’s heart was in it,” Angela testified, according to Fox affiliate WXIX-TV. “Nobody wanted to do it.”
In 2017, with Sophia in tow, the Wagners sold their 71-acre farm and moved to Alaska as the murder investigation continued, though George Wagner IV testified in his own defense that he believed they moved to keep Sophia away from the publicity surrounding the case.
George IV denied having anything to do with the murders, claiming Jake and Angela lied on the stand, according to WXIX-TV.
Closing arguments commenced Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday break, with lead special prosecutor Angela Canepa calling the murders “senseless.”
“These murders should have never happened; there was never a reason,” she said. “Eight innocent victims were slaughtered.”
Special Prosecutor Andy Wilson told jurors on Tuesday that even though George IV may not have pulled the trigger, “you better believe he is up to his eyeballs in this with his family,” according to the Fox affiliate.
Jurors reconvened on Wednesday morning, deliberating for just over seven hours before finding the defendant guilty.
Tony Rhoden, a relative of the victims, said the verdict offered “a little bit of peace,” according to WXIX-TV.
“We still have a long road to go,” said Rhoden. “We’ll get there because we are a family.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who was the Ohio Attorney General at the time of the murders, applauded prosecutors and investigators following Wednesday’s verdict, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
“Today, the Rhoden and Gilley families can take some comfort in knowing that George Wagner has been convicted and that he will be punished,” DeWine stated. “As will his brother, Jacob, and his mother, Angela.”
Canepa spoke to victims’ relatives following the verdict, according to WXIX-TV.
“I know today’s verdict doesn’t bring your loved ones back,” she said. “But I hope it does give you some semblance of peace that another of the evil monsters that did this is held accountable.”
George Wagner IV will be formally sentenced at the end of December.
His father is expected to go to trial in 2023.
“We got one more to go,” retired Pike County Sheriff’s investigator Major Al Lewis said of Billy Wagner, according to WCPO. “He’s next. We’re gonna win that one, too.”
The case was covered by Oxygen’s original series, “The Piketon Family Murders.”
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