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'The Devil Always Hunts In The Dark': George Wagner IV Sentenced For Pike County Massacre
Loved ones read victim impact statements before George Wagner IV was sentenced to life plus 121 years for his role in the 2016 slayings that left eight people dead.
One of four family members charged in the 2016 massacre of a rival family will spend the rest of his life in prison, following his conviction.
George Wagner IV, 31, was sentenced to eight consecutive life sentences plus 121 years for eight counts of aggravated murder and other charges connected with the Piketon family murders, according to Fox Cincinnati affiliate WXIX-TV. He will not be eligible for parole.
George, who was found guilty on Nov. 30, had initially faced execution on the charges. However, the death penalty was taken off the table in exchange for the cooperation and testimony of the defendant’s younger brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner, and mother, Angela Wagner, both of whom previously pleaded guilty to various charges related to the slaughter.
On Monday, Judge Randy Deering told George he showed little remorse for the killings and failed to live a “law-abiding life,” according to CBS Cincinnati affiliate WKRC-TV.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who was the Ohio Attorney General at the time of the murders, reacted to the sentence on Twitter.
“George Wagner IV will never live another day outside a prison — a sentence that’s another step toward justice for the Rhodens, Gilleys and Manleys,” he wrote. “I spoke with family members this morning, commending them for their courage and their patience as they waited six-plus years for this day.”
Both sides agreed that George never pulled a trigger during the overnight attack, which his defense contended made him not guilty of the murders.
But, on the night of April 21-22, 2016, the brothers, allegedly with the help of their father, George “Billy” Wagner III, went to several dwellings in rural Pike County, Ohio in order to kill the present adult members of the extended Rhoden family.
The “execution-style” massacre stemmed from an ongoing dispute between Jake Wagner and 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden over custody of their daughter, Sophia. (Sophia and George IV's young child were with Angela Wagner, who stayed home on the night of the murders to provide the family with alibis.)
Jake Wagner testified that either he or his father shot the eight victims after George IV froze when he was supposed to kill Christopher Rhoden Sr.
The victims were Hanna Rhoden; her parents, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, and Dana Manley-Rhoden, 37; her brothers Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie Rhoden, 20; Frankie Rhoden’s fiancée, Hanna Gilley, 20; Christopher Sr.’s cousin, Gary Rhoden; and Hanna Rhoden's uncle, Kenneth Rhoden, 44.
George Wagner IV denied having any involvement in the killings.
Hannah Gilley’s mother, Andrea Shoemaker, was one of several people to give a victim impact statement during Monday’s sentencing, according to WKRC-TV.
“The devil always hunts in the dark… just like you did, George Wagner, with your evil family in one night on April 21 and 22,” Shoemaker stated.
At one point during her statement, Shoemaker said, “I want you to die,” according to WXIX-TV, stating she wished George’s sentence would have been death.
Chelsea Robinson, who shared a child with Frankie Rhoden, also had some harsh words at Monday’s sentencing. Her child, now 9 years old, was one of three children who were present for the shootings, though left physically unharmed.
“I hope you burn in Hell,” said Robinson. “God says we’re supposed to forgive, but I just can’t right now.”
Robinson also read a letter on behalf of her child, reading, “Why did you kill my daddy?”
George declined to speak at sentencing, according to CBS Columbus affiliate WBNS-TV.
Jake and his mother both took the stand at George’s trial and detailed their unsubstantiated fears that Sophia was at risk of being sexually abused while living with the Rhodens.
Following the murders, the Wagners forged documents for custody of Sophia and relocated to Alaska, where they lived for a year. After what Mike DeWine once referred to as a massive criminal investigation that surpassed “any other in Ohio’s history,” the Wagners were arrested in 2018, having decided to move back to the state.
Jake Wagner is facing eight life sentences without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to eight counts of murder. Angela Wagner also has yet to be sentenced after pleading guilty to lesser charges, including conspiracy, burglary and tampering with evidence.
George “Billy” Wagner IIII has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and is expected to stand trial in 2023.
The case was covered by Oxygen’s original series, The Piketon Family Murders.