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The Pike County Massacre: What’s Going on with George "Billy" Wagner’s Murder Trial?
The murder trial for George “Billy” Wagner III has been delayed multiple times, but is now set for 2024, eight years after the Pike County massacre. Here's where his case stands.
On April 22, 2016, a senseless, brutal crime rocked rural Ohio. Eight members of the Rhoden family were mercilessly executed at gunpoint in a premeditated and chilling massacre in Pike County.
The victims were Hanna May Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, Dana Manley-Rhoden, 37, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, Frankie Rhoden, 20, his fiancée, Hannah Gilley, 20, Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and Gary Rhoden, 38.
This horrifying event is the focal point of Oxygen’s upcoming three-part documentary series, The Pike County Murders: A Family Massacre, premiering November 24 at 8/7c p.m. with two episodes, and continuing with a third episode on November 25 at 9/8c p.m.
The victims were mostly killed in their sleep in execution-style manner in or near their four homes. Investigators described the series of murders as a calculated and coordinated attack.
As the investigation unraveled, detectives zeroed in on the Wagner family, former friends of the Rhodens, who were ultimately implicated in the cold-blooded killings. A custody battle involving Hanna and Jake Wagner’s daughter, Sophia, fueled the senseless bloodbath, prosecutors said.
The infamous case still stands as the largest — and one of the most gruesome — murder cases in Ohio’s history. And today, more than seven years later, the saga is still playing out in county courtrooms. After years of delays, George “Billy” Wagner III, the family’s patriarch, is on the verge of standing trial. His wife and their two sons have already been sentenced in connection to the crimes.
What is Billy Wagner charged with and how did he plead?
Wagner is facing 22 charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder in connection with the 2016 Rhoden family massacre, according to online jail records obtained by Oxygen.com. The other charges include evidence tampering, burglary, forgery, obstructing justice and more. He has pleaded not guilty to all 22 charges.
What is Billy Wagner’s alleged role in the Pike County Murders?
Prosecutors say Wagner played a major and direct role in carrying out the murders. They allege the Wagner clan plotted the execution of Hanna Rhoden and her closest loved ones, with the goal of Jake Wagner attaining sole custody of his daughter with Hanna, Sophia.
Wagner is suspected of conspiring with his two sons, Jake and George Wagner IV, to carry out the series of slayings. Specifically, according to court testimony, the Wagner family patriarch is accused of being the triggerman in at least three of the murders. He allegedly gunned down Hanna's father Christopher Rhoden Sr., along with Gary Rhoden and Kenneth Rhoden, according to WXIX.
Jake admitted in court testimony to fatally shooting five of the eight victims, including Hanna, Hanna's mother Dana Manley-Rhoden and Hanna's two brothers, Christopher Rhoden Jr. and Frankie Rhoden, as well as Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah Gilley.
What has held up Billy Wagner’s murder trial?
Billy Wagner has been in jail awaiting trial following his arrest in November of 2018. He’s the final defendant to stand trial in the Pike County family massacre. Over the years, his case has been stalled for a number of reasons.
- Change of venue: Citing the case’s pre-trial publicity and the high likelihood of a biased jury, especially after his son George’s conviction in the same courthouse last year, Wagner’s lawyers have been fighting fiercely to move the trial outside of Pike County.
“This case is happening in a county that has already heard and already decided [Wagner’s] case,” the defense stated in court documents ahead of oral hearings in the matter last month, according to WXIX.
They’ve specifically argued the case falls under presumed prejudice, noting the media coverage leading up to trial could influence jurors.
“[The coverage] has contained ‘blatantly prejudicial information’ that no reasonable viewer can be expected to shut from sight,” Wagner’s lawyers added.
A Pike County judge has yet to render a decision in the matter.
- New judge: In January of 2023, Wagner’s trial was delayed over the need to appoint a new judge to the case following the retirement of Pike County Judge Randy Deering, WCMH-TV reported.
- Conflict of Interest: The appointment of Judge Deering’s replacement, Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk, further delayed trial proceedings.
Since Junk served as one of the original prosecutors on the mass murder case, having him replace Deering would have been a conflict of interest.
In March, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy chose retired Brown County Common Pleas Court Judge R. Alan Corbin to preside over the case, according to WXIX.
- Sufficient time to review evidence: A March 2023 status conference hearing determined that pushing the trial to 2024 would also allow attorneys enough time to go over the wealth of materials and documents from Wagner's son George’s 2022 trial.
When will Billy Wagner go to trial?
Billy Wagner’s trial for the Pike County murders is set for May 6, 2024. A decision has not yet been made on its location. The trial is expected to last eight weeks, WCPO reported.
What were Jake Wagner, George Wagner IV and Angela Wagner convicted of and sentenced to?
Jake was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He testified for five days against his brother George at his October 2022 trial.
Angela pleaded guilty to conspiracy, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, forgery, unauthorized use of property and unlawful possession of a dangerous ordinance. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
"I have regret,” Angela told the jury at her son George’s 2022 murder trial under cross examination, per WKRC. “I have remorse, and I am more than sorry, but that's not enough.”
George Wagner IV, the first Wagner family member to go to trial in the Pike County Massacre, was sentenced to eight consecutive life sentences, plus an added 121 years, prison records show. He was found guilty on all 22 charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder, as well as lesser charges of tampering with evidence, conspiracy and forgery.