A man convicted in the killings of eight people from another southern Ohio family faces the possibility of life in prison without parole when he is sentenced Monday.
The main question is whether 31-year-old George Wagner IV will get any chance of parole, and if so, how soon. A Pike County judge may hear statements from relatives of the victims before deciding that.
Wagner denied any knowledge of his family’s involvement in the 2016 shootings of seven adults and a teenager from the Rhoden family. Prosecutors said most of the victims were killed as they slept, in some cases next to their very young children, who weren’t injured.
Authorities alleged Wagner, his brother and their parents plotted the killings amid a dispute over custody of Wagner’s niece, whose mother was among those slain.
The April 2016 shootings at three mobile homes and a camper near Piketon terrified residents in that part of rural Ohio and initially prompted speculation about drug cartel involvement. The resulting multimillion-dollar investigation and prosecution is among the state’s most extensive.
Wagner was convicted on 22 counts, including aggravated murder. It’s no longer a death penalty case because his brother made a plea deal to help all four Wagners avoid execution and agreed to testify against the others.
Prosecutors say Wagner shows no remorse and should be imprisoned with no chance of parole. They say what he really deserves is a death sentence and that he was spared only because of his brother’s actions, not his own.
The prosecution alleged Wagner was with his brother and father when they went to the homes, that he went inside, and that he helped his brother move two bodies.
Wagner’s attorneys emphasize that he didn’t kill anyone and say denying him “a meaningful chance of parole” would be unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
They also want a new trial. A hearing on that request is scheduled Monday before Judge Randy Deering in conjunction with the sentencing.
Wagner’s attorneys cite two main reasons in the request. One is about the jury having been selected for a potential capital case even though prosecutors would eventually dismiss the death penalty specifications. The attorneys also say the court hindered their ability to probe the credibility of Wagner’s younger brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner, by denying them access to notes about discussions between Jake and his lawyer, despite him testifying about it.
Jake Wagner pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and other charges, admitted responsibility for five of the shootings, and is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Angela Wagner pleaded guilty to helping to plan the slayings, and prosecutors recommended a 30-year sentence for her.
Her husband, George “Billy” Wagner III, pleaded not guilty in the killings 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 Rhoden, and 16-year-old Christopher Jr.; Clarence Rhoden’s fiancee, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; and a cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden.