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The youngest son of a rural Ohio family already convicted for his role in the murders of eight people over a child custody dispute has finished testifying against his older brother in the case.
Edward "Jake" Wagner, 29, was cross examined by a lawyer for his brother, George Wagner IV, 30, on Friday after four days of testimony about the 2016 Pike County Murders. Prosecutors say the two men, their father, George "Billy" Wagner III, and mother, Angela Wagner, plotted to kill the mother of Jake Wagner's child, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, and her entire extended family in the area.
Jake Wagner has testified that, on the night of April 21-22, 2016, he and his father gunned down: Hanna; her parents, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, and Dana Manley-Rhoden, 37; Hanna’s brothers, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie Rhoden, 20; her uncle, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; Christopher Sr.’s cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38; and Frankie Rhoden’s fiancée, Hannah Gilley, 20.
Jake Wagner told the court that, though his brother was there, he failed to pull the trigger when ordered and didn't actually kill any of the victims — which is what George Wagner's lawyers have told jurors as well.
Jake Wagner pleaded guilty to the murders in April 2021 in exchange for not facing the death penalty; the terms of his plea agreement required that he testify against his father and brother.
Angela Wagner pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, several counts of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, and other charges in September 2021. She is also required to testify against her eldest son and husband at trial.
George Wagner III is scheduled to go to trial next year.
Under cross examination, George Wagner's defense attorney, John Parker, grilled Jake Wagner about his plea agreement, accusing him of "lying all the time."
“You sold your testimony to the state of Ohio to save your life?” Parker asked, after twice accusing Jake Wagner of being untruthful in his testimony. "You sold that, didn't you? You didn't throw yourself on the mercy of the court with death specifications?"
Jake Wagner had previously testified that his decision to confess to the murders was "an answer from God" and that he'd felt immense guilt in the wake of the murders, but had been concerned that one of Hanna May Rhoden's brothers would abuse his daughter. (No evidence has been submitted to support that claim.)
Parker also elicited testimony from Jake Wagner that he has memory and cognition problems, and that he'd had two serious head injuries as a child that had gone untreated — including getting hit in the head so badly that he vomited and had difficulty walking for a week, according to Law & Crime. His parents did not provide him with medical attention in that case, though they did take him to get stitches after another head injury resulted in a bleeding gash to his forehead.
In response to questions from Parker, Jake Wagner further outlined his family's various illegal means of obtaining money, including a scam to pass dogs off as purebred, stealing trucks and cargo from trucks, burning down their own buildings for insurance money, siphoning gas from other people's vehicles and breaking into cars, according to Law & Crime and the Cincinnati Enquirer.
George Wagner IV's trial resumed on Monday morning with expert testimony on evidence prosecutors allege was used in the murders, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
The case was covered by Oxygen’s original series, “The Piketon Family Murders.”
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