Pike County murder trial: Forensic evidence takes center stage

WAVERLY, Ohio — Forensics, including ballistic, blood and shoe print evidence, were presented Friday to a jury that will decide the fate of a man accused of killing eight people in Pike County in 2016.

George Wagner IV — along with his mother Angela, father George “Billy” Wagner and brother Edward “Jake” Wagner — is accused of shooting and killing the Rhoden family members “execution-style.” The family’s bodies were found on April 22, 2016. He faces eight charges of aggravated murder, along with other charges associated with tampering with evidence, conspiracy and forgery.

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.

The trial is the first time a person has faced a jury for the deaths of the Rhoden family six years ago.

The first witness, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent Shane Hanshaw, opted to be recorded during his testimony as he described how he documented the crime scenes after BCI was called in to assist in the investigation.

Hanshaw meticulously detailed evidence collected from the scene at Chris Sr.’s trailer, detailing how evidence was collected, labelled and documented.

Some evidence in the yard was collected that afternoon by BCI: A Mountain Dew can and several cigarette butts. All contained DNA identified as belonging to Gary Rhoden, who was found dead inside the trailer.

Blood spatter was seen on the front porch and sidewalk in the front of the home, Hanshaw said. While he spoke, prosecutors displayed photographs — taken by Hanshaw himself on April 22, 2016 — depicting the items discovered.

“In looking at this, it’s very hard to see, but there was actually residue of suspected blood there in the grass,” said Hanshaw, gesturing toward a photo shown to the jury.

Several bullet holes were noted in the front of Chris Sr.’s home, Hanshaw said.

“When we got to the porch area and began to examine that there was some laminate flooring that was stacked up in the area,” he said. “Looking through that, we found what we believed to be a bullet or a partial bullet in that area.”

That bullet was the first of six bullet holes discovered in the area; five holes were found in the screen door or the front of the home near the screen door.

There were no bullet holes in the interior front door, despite trajectory rods showing there should be, Hanshaw said.

Because of that, Hanshaw said he believes the interior front door was open when the bullets were fired through the screen door and front of the house.

Moving to the inside of the trailer, the jury was shown the interior of those bullet holes, where wood and metal sheared away from the spot where a projectile punched through the home.

“This indicates directionality first of all,” said Hanshaw. “Whatever object caused that appeared to be coming from the outside in, because this is on the inside.”

Blind swabs done on the screen door of the house showed a mixture of DNA, with Gary being the major contributor; there was no DNA present from Chris Sr. or any of the Wagner family members accused of the murders, Hanshaw said.

Blind swabs are intended to pick up unseen DNA on surfaces, but if a person wearing gloves touched the surface there would be no transfer of DNA, he testified.

Inside the home, the scene was a complicated one, said Hanshaw.

“This scene was a little different than some scenes, a lot of scenes that you enter you have an area that you can establish a place to work ... this particular scene, we were not able to do that because there was so much evidence right in the door,” he said.

Multiple bullets and bullet fragments were found inside the house, including embedded in two speakers on the back wall furthest from the front door. No bullet fragments were pulled from the holes in the front of the house, which means all five passed through the front and into the home, Hanshaw said.

On the back wall of the home, three bullets exited the trailer and were charted with trajectory rods. A bullet also struck and broke a framed picture that had been hanging near the two speakers that were found to have bullets embedded in them.

Hanshaw said after investigators combed through the living room, he felt comfortable moving a large upholstered rocking chair in the room. After moving it, officials found another bullet hole in the floor.

Prosecution asked whether the rocker had been there at the time of the murders, or if it appeared to have been moved. Hanshaw said it had been moved a bit, but investigators found a large blood stain on the rocker that aligned with nearby blood spatter and bloody drag marks indicated it had been in that same general area when bullets flew through the room.

In the kitchen area, Hanshaw said a .40 caliber cartridge case was discovered and bloody drag marks continue across the floor in that room. Another bullet jacket was found on a bed in a small bedroom.

“I found nothing at all that would indicate that any shots were fired from within the house going out of the house,” said Hanshaw. “My opinion was that the shots did occur from outside. I felt that they were from the front yard area.”

He said there was evidence that at least one shot was fired inside the trailer, but that “nothing indicated that anyone in the interior had actually shot out toward the exterior.”

From there, prosecutors moved on to asking about blood evidence in the home. The jury was shown several evidence photos of the inside of the home, the bloody drag marks, blood spatter on the wall and other forensic material.

Swabs collected from blood spatter on walls in the living room, stains on furniture and drag marks confirmed the blood in that room belonged to Chris Rhoden Sr.

Additional swabs taken from the floor and back wall of the living room were DNA tested and found to belong to Gary Rhoden, Hanshaw said.

Blood spatter stains were found on the ceiling in the living room, but prosecutors said swabs of those were not sent to the lab for DNA testing.

In the kitchen, they found partial show impressions in blood, along with more drag marks leading through the kitchen and further into the house.

“The blood-letting event had occurred within the residence and the individuals were drug through the residence,” said Hanshaw, gesturing at photos for the jury. “Over here, you can see another area where a body was turned and then drug to the same area of the residence. Also you see partial footwear impressions in blood.”

When Hanshaw and BCI agents were processing the trailer, he said the imprints were dried. To preserve them and alert law enforcement to not step there, Hanshaw said he covered them with parchment paper.

Leuco crystal violet, a chemical that Hanshaw said is intended to enhance detail in blood patterns that isn’t visible to the eye, was used on the footprints to bring out more information. The spray is intended to keep the blood stain from growing over time as well, he said.

Hanshaw then detailed the ways he photographed the footprints, under various kinds of lighting and with and without flash to ensure that as much detail could be captured as possible.

BCI agents waited to collect the footprints themselves last, leaving the parchment paper or boxes over top of them until they were able to process the rest of the trailer.

Then they brought in power tools and cut the footprints up from the floor.

Prosecution then led Hanshaw to explain the process of preserving all the evidence that was collected, focusing especially on the shoe prints.

Prosecutor Andrew Wilson emphasized in his questioning the condition of the shoe prints, how they were collected, how they were stored and what the Leuco crystal violet is intended to do, likely trying to show the jury the evidence is legitimate and undamaged.

The trial ended at 4:00 p.m., before the prosecution finished questioning Hanshaw. They will pick back up again Monday morning, followed by the defense’s opportunity to cross-examine Hanshaw.

Friday marked the fifth day of testimony, ending the first week of the trial. Throughout the week, jurors heard from first responders who described grisly scenes discovered on the morning of April 22, 2016 and family members described discovering their loved ones shot to death in their beds.

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