An Ohio man accused of helping plan and carry out the brutal 2016 slayings of eight members of a single family in a small Ohio community was found guilty on all charges on Wednesday afternoon.
After more than 10 weeks of testimony, the jury took less than eight hours to reach a decision in the case of George Wagner IV, 31, who remained “fairly stoic” as the verdicts were read aloud in the courtroom, according to WLWT. In all, Wagner was convicted of 22 charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder, as well as further counts of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, forgery, and conspiracy.
Prosecutors said Wagner had worked with his mother, Angela Wagner, father, George “Billy” Wagner, and brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner, to fatally shoot the eight members of the Rhoden family “execution-style” in multiple locations near Piketon in April 2016. The Rhodens’ bodies were discovered later that month, sending a bolt of fear through the sleepy Ohio community and garnering national attention.
As the jury was dismissed, some of the Rhodens’ relatives in the courtroom embraced one another, sobbing. “I feel sorry for him,” Tony Rhoden, whose brother was among those killed, told reporters outside the courthouse. “Because he is human.”
“George Wagner is human. They just didn’t show it on that night,” he said. “It should have never happened.” Rhoden added later that the verdicts brought the family “a little bit of peace. We still have a long road to go—we will get there, because we are family.”
The murders, it was argued during Wagner’s trial, stemmed from a custody dispute involving his toddler niece that one of the victims, 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden, shared with Jake Wagner. (Authorities said the young girl was staying with the Wagners when the killings occurred.)
Besides Hanna, the other victims were identified as Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37; Gary Rhoden, 38; Hannah Gilley, 20; Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16. The Rhodens were all fatally shot, most of them several times in the head.
Three young Rhoden children were found unharmed at the sites of the slayings, including the then-5-day-old Kyle Mae, who was discovered next to the body of her mother, Hanna.
Jake Wagner later said that he had shot Hanna as she lay propped up in bed breastfeeding the newborn, and that he rearranged her crumpled body so she could continue breastfeeding “in case it took a while for the bodies to be discovered,” according to WSAZ.
At his trial, Wagner denied any knowledge of his family’s killing spree, testifying that he would have intervened otherwise. “I would have never let it happen,” he said on the stand, The Associated Press reported earlier this month. “One way or another, I would not have let it happen.”
“I’m ashamed to know that my family would do something like this,” he added later.
Wagner himself was not accused of shooting anyone, but prosecutors said he participated in both the murders and their subsequent cover-ups. They alleged that Wagner accompanied his brother and father on their calculated rampage, which took place at three mobile homes and a camper van, according to The Washington Post. Wagner then helped his brother move two of the bodies, prosecutors said.
“He doesn’t have to be the person that actually pulled the trigger,” special prosecutor Angela Canepa, who previously called the case “one of the most heinous crimes in Ohio history,” told the jury during closing arguments.
Turning to Wagner, she added: “You were complicit, because you knew what was going to happen, you knew what they were going to do, and you aided and abetted them.”
Jake Wagner was the first member of the clan to admit guilt in the killings, confessing last year to shooting five of the eight Rhodens. After a deal that saw him spared the death penalty, he testified he had killed Hanna because he feared his 2-year-old daughter was being sexually abused. The Wagner matriarch, Angela, pleaded guilty to helping plot the slaughter last September in a deal in which the prosecution recommend a 30-year sentence.
Under the terms of the agreement, both Jake and Angela agreed to testify against George and his father, Billy, at their respective trials. In late October and early November, George’s brother and mother each took the stand to implicate him in the killings.
Both also blamed much of the massacre directly on Billy, with Angela saying her husband believed the Rhodens would seek revenge for Hanna’s death, so they all “had to be murdered,” according to the AP.
Billy, 50, has pleaded not guilty and is not expected to go on trial until next year.
George Wagner IV will be sentenced in a Dec. 14 hearing. It was decided earlier in his trial by a judge that he would not face the death penalty, under the terms of the plea bargains made between the prosecution and Jake and Angela Wagner.