Trial begins in Pike County murders. 5 things you need to know

Aug. 28—The trial for a man accused of participating in the 2016 slaying of eight people in Pike County may begin this week.

Jury selection is expected to wrap up Monday in the murder trial of George Wagner IV, the oldest son of George “Billy” Wagner III and Angela Wagner. They and younger son Edward “Jake” Wagner are all charged with conspiracy in the murders.

George Wagner is the first of the four to stand trial. Here are five things to know about the case:

1. Brother, mother to testify

Angela and Jake Wagner have already pleaded guilty to their roles in the murders. The deals require them to testify against the other two when they go to trial, in exchange for the death penalty being taken off the table for all four defendants.

Jake Wagner pleaded guilty last year to 23 charges in connection with the murders. Wagner’s sentence is suspended until he cooperates and testifies against the others. If he does so to the state’s satisfaction, Wagner will spend the rest of his life in prison and the four will avoid the death penalty.

Angela Wagner accepted a similar deal last year, with prosecutors dropping murder charges against her but recommending she spend 30 years in prison for helping plan the killings.

2. Custody battle behind the dispute

The Dayton Daily News was the first to reveal that a custody battle was at the heart of the dispute that led to the killings.

Jake Wagner had a daughter with Hannah Rhoden, who was 2 years old at the time of the murders. Six days after Hannah Roden and seven others were killed, Jake Wagner filed for custody of the girl.

Using custody documents and other records, a Dayton Daily News investigation found that the fight over the girl was at the center of a wild feud that prosecutors believe escalated into murder.

The daughter was not there when the murders took place. But three children, aged 3, 6 months and 4 days, were. All three were left alive at the crime scene.

3. The victims

In addition to Hanna, the victims were her father Chris Rhoden Sr. mother Dana Manley Rhoden; the brothers Chris Rhoden Jr. and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden. her uncle Kenneth Rhoden; cousin Gary Rhoden; and Frankie’s girlfriend, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley.

They were murdered “execution style” at four separate homes on three different properties in rural Pike County on the same night on April 22, 2016. Investigators say they were shot a total of 32 times, mostly in the head.

4. The largest investigation in the history of the state

The Wagners were arrested in November 2018, more than two years after the murders. The family briefly moved to Alaska in 2017, but returned to Ohio.

Pike County residents lost hope that the crime would be solved, although then-Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine — now governor — and local law enforcement said the investigation continues to make progress.

It was the largest criminal investigation in state history. Investigators reviewed 1,100 tips from the public, conducted 550 interviews, reviewed more than 700 pieces of evidence and served more than 200 search warrants, subpoenas and subpoenas.

But the final piece of evidence that led to the Wagner family’s indictment and arrest came in October 2018, when, DeWine said, authorities confirmed the existence of a homemade silencer the suspects are accused of using.

At the time of the arrest, DeWine described an elaborate plan, saying the suspects bought ammunition, a device to capture spent cells, a “jury” detector and specific shoes from Walmart as they prepared to commit the crimes.

Investigators have not released information on exactly how they believe the Wagners committed the murders and covered their tracks. This information may come out at trial.

5. Massive media attention

The murders made international news and the trial likely will too.

Among the multiple genres covering the trial, Court TV has announced that it will broadcast the sphinx-in-a-hull trial.

Residents of the small county — Pike County’s population is just over 28,000 — have expressed frustration in interviews with the Dayton Daily News in the past about how their community was portrayed after the killings and how embarrassing the attack was to the media.

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