WAVERLY, Ohio -- The first defendant to face trial in the slayings of eight people from another Ohio family should be convicted regardless of whether he was a triggerman, a prosecutor told jurors Monday as closing arguments began.
George Wagner IV, his brother and parents were charged in southern Ohio's Pike County for the 2016 slayings of seven adults and a teenager from the Rhoden family, which authorities say the Wagners spent months planning. The 31-year-old Wagner wasn’t accused of shooting any of the victims, and he testified in his own defense, denying that he knew anything about his relatives' involvement in the killings.
But special prosecutor Angela Canepa told jurors that Wagner knew what would happen, participated in the plans and should be convicted in the killings, which authorities say stemmed from a dispute over custody of Wagner's young niece.
“He doesn’t have to be the person that actually pulled the trigger,” Canepa said.
Prosecutors allege that Wagner was with his brother and father when they drove to the locations of the killings, went inside with them and helped his brother move two bodies.
Jurors are scheduled to hear closing arguments from the defense on Tuesday before beginning their deliberations.
They've listened to testimony from dozens of witnesses over the course of more than two months, including from Wagner, who said he wouldn't have let the slayings occur if he had known of the plans.
His testimony stood at odds with that of his own brother and mother, who previously admitted their roles under earlier plea agreements in the slayings.
His younger brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner, admitted killing five victims and implicated his father in the other three slayings. Jake had pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and other charges and agreed to testify against George and their parents in a deal to help the family avoid potential death sentences.
Prosecutors said the Wagners became obsessed with gaining control of a child that Jake Wagner had with Hanna Rhoden.
Angela Wagner, who pleaded guilty to helping to plan the slayings, testified that Jake wanted to kill Hanna Rhoden. But Angela Wagner said it was her husband, George “Billy” Wagner III, who believed they had to kill the whole Rhoden family to avoid a possible revenge attack.
Billy Wagner has pleaded not guilty in the slayings and awaits trial.
The victims were 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr.; his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; their three children: 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 19-year-old Hanna, and 16-year-old Christopher Jr.; Frankie's fiancée, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; and a cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden.