George “Billy” Wagner III and George Wagner IV have pleaded not guilty.
The fatal shootings at three trailers and a camper near Piketon in April 2016 terrified residents in a stretch of rural Ohio and launched one of the state's most extensive criminal investigations, which led to the Wagners' arrest more than two years later.
The Wagners spent months planning the killings and targeted some of the victims, but “some sadly were killed because they happened to be there,” said special prosecutor Angela Canepa.
Most of the victims were repeatedly shot in the head, and some showed signs of bruising. Three young children at the scenes were unharmed.
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, 16-year-old Christopher Jr., and 19-year-old Hanna; 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.
Prosecutors say the Wagner family planned the killings for months, motivated by a dispute over custody of the daughter Jake Wagner had with Hanna Rhoden.
The Wagners used guns with homemade silencers, allowing them to kill their victims as they slept, according to the prosecutors.
Angela Wagner was fully aware of the plans and bought several items used to carry out the killings, including “phone jammers” that would have prevented the victims from calling for help, Canepa said.
She also forged custody documents and monitored some of the victims' social media accounts before the killings, Canepa said. Wagner approached prosecutors about a deal and gave them new information after her son pleaded guilty, Canepa said.
Jake Wagner pleaded guilty in April on the fifth anniversary of the slayings and said in court that he was “deeply and very sorry.” He hasn’t been sentenced, but his lawyer said he understood that he would spend his life in prison.
Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, Tony Rhoden Sr., has said the family was grateful for the first plea as “some semblance of justice.”
He also has sued the Wagners. That case is pending.
Seewer reported from Toledo.