The first witness called to testify, Bobby Jo Manley, opted not to be recorded by media. She is the sister of one of the murder victims, and discovered four of the eight Rhoden family members dead in their homes on the morning of April 22, 2016.
Manley recounted her experience on the morning of April 22, 2016, when she first found Chris Sr. and Gary Rhoden dead inside their home when she came to help feed Chris Sr.’s dogs, chickens and pigs. When she and her friend Billy Morgan noticed dogs that belonged inside were left outside.
When they entered, Morgan and Manley found a recliner moved, vice grips on the floor and a smear of blood among bunched up rugs leading from the front room, through the kitchen to Chris Sr.’s bedroom. At the end of the trail, they found the bodies of Chris Sr. and Gary on the floor of the bedroom, covered with a comforter.
From there, Manley called 911 from the properties on Union Hill Road, telling dispatch she’d “found them all dead.”
“There’s blood all over the house,” she told a 911 dispatcher. “My brother-in-law is in the bedroom. Someone beat the hell out of him.”
After discovering her ex-brother-in-law and his cousin dead, she said she raced next door to the home of Frankie and Hannah Hazel to notify them. When she arrived, Frankie’s 3-year-old son opens the door for her. Prosecutors said during opening statements the boy told Manley “daddy has a lot of blood.”
In their bedroom, Manley said she discovered Frankie and Hannah Hazel dead; Hannah Hazel was lying on her front and had apparently been nursing the couple’s 6-month-old son, Ruger, when she was killed.
Ruger was left unharmed in the bed, lying between his parents and covered in blood, Manley said.
The second witness called was Morgan. He also opted out of being recorded during his testimony.
During opening statements on Monday, Angela Canepa, special prosecutor for the case, spent hours describing the movements of the Wagner family on the night of April 21 and into the morning of April 22. Eight members of the Rhoden family were found shot to death in their beds on April 22.
Found dead that day were 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr., 37-year-old Dana Rhoden, 20-year-old Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 16-year-old Christopher Rhoden Jr., 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 37-year-old Gary Rhoden, 19-year-old Hanna May Rhoden, and 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden.
George’s defense attorney, Richard Nash, pointed out much of the prosecution’s opening statements focused on other members of the Wagner family, specifically details given by Jake and Angela, who both took plea deals and are expected to testify at George’s trial. As part of their plea deals, the mother and brother of the defendant must testify in order for death penalty specifications against the family to be dropped.
Nash painted George as the good-hearted black sheep of a family prone to conning others and committing crimes.
He told the jury that every time they heard “the Wagners,” or a specific family member’s name, to think about how that applies to George, not the other family members.