An Ohio man accused of helping his family plan, carry out and cover up the murder of eight members of another family was found guilty of murder Wednesday.
A jury convicted George Wagner IV Wednesday afternoon on multiple counts of aggravated murder and other charges related to conspiracy and attempts to cover up evidence in the 2016 Rhoden family massacre.
Wagner, who was not charged with shooting anyone, testified during the trial that he was unaware of his family’s deadly plans. Earlier in the trial, a judge decided Wagner would not face the death penalty for a conviction as part of a plea deal between the prosecution and two other members of Wagner’s family who agreed to testify truthfully against him.
Prosecutors said Wagner and his family conspired to kill the Rhodens over a custody dispute involving Wagner’s brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner, and one of the victims, Hanna Rhoden, who had a young daughter.
In addition to Hanna Rhoden, 19, the victims were her parents, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, and Dana Rhoden, 37; her brothers: Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, and Christopher Jr., 16; Clarence Rhoden’s fiancee Hannah Gilley, 20; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and a cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38.
After the verdict, members of the Rhoden family gathered in front of the courthouse and wept, thanking the jury for giving them “a little peace” years after their loved ones were murdered.
“It never should have happened,” Tony Rhoden, a family member, said of the murders.
Many members of the Rhoden family went through the emotional trial, including their matriarch, Guinevere Rhoden.
Tony Rhoden said they have been able to get through the tragedy with “family support.”
He called Geneva Rhoden “the rock” of the family and said, “She’s the one who got us here.”
Both the Wagner siblings and their parents, Angela Wagner and George “Billy” Wagner III, were charged with the murders. George “Billy” Wagner III has pleaded not guilty.
Angela Wagner pleaded guilty to helping plan the murders in exchange for a 30-year sentence. Jake Wagner confessed last year to shooting five of the Rhoden family’s victims and has been spared the death penalty as a result of his guilty plea.
“These murders should never have happened,” special prosecutor Ángela Canepa said during closing arguments. “We are here because eight innocent victims were massacred, most in their sleep, all of them unarmed.”
Canepa said that Wagner should be found guilty, even if he himself did not kill any of the Rhodens.
“He doesn’t have to be the person who really pulled the trigger,” he said.
“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,” he said of Wagner.
During closing arguments, Wagner’s defense attorney told the jury that Wagner had no reason to participate in the murder of Hanna Rhoden and her family. Instead, he said, the blame fell on Wagner’s brother, Jake, and his mother, Angela.
“Jake and Angela have destroyed this man’s life,” John Parker said of his client.
“Why would he agree to kill Hanna and her family? You heard him testify, Hanna was like a little sister to him,” he said.
“He wouldn’t kill anyone. He didn’t kill anybody, and he didn’t follow through because he doesn’t make sense,” Parker said.
Earlier in the trial, George Wagner IV testified that he did not know that his family planned to kill the Rhodens. Although he detailed his family’s history of crimes, including burning his property to get insurance money, he said he would have tried to stop the murder plot if he had known.
“I never would have believed that my family would be capable of doing something of this magnitude,” he testified. “Theft is one thing. Murder is a completely different thing.”
Wagner said that if he had known about the plan, “one way or another, I never would have let it happen.”
Both Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner testified against George Wagner IV at the trial as part of the plea agreements.
Jake Wagner testified that he was increasingly concerned that his son with Hanna Rhoden might be abused and ultimately decided that he “had no choice but to kill Hanna.” according to Cincinnati’s WLWT, an NBC affiliate.
Jake Wagner chose to limit his testimony to the courtroom and not broadcast it on audio or video, which the judge allowed.
He also testified that George Wagner IV helped execute the plot and was supposed to kill Chris Rhoden Sr., the first member of the Rhoden family to be killed that night in April 2016, according to the station.
Jake Wagner said that his brother froze and did not fire, leading Jake to kill the man himself, according to WLWT.
Angela Wagner also testified in court against her son, saying that he himself was willing to confess to the murders, but she was against it. according to NBC affiliate WCMH of Columbus, Ohio.
The prosecution asked Angela Wagner if she regretted her actions, according to the station. She said that she was and became visibly emotional, WCMH reported.
“Because they are my children,” he said. “I should have protected them from that situation.”