Pike County murder trial postponed due to evidentiary issues

WAVERLY — The trial of George Wagner IV was postponed on Friday and the jury dismissed early after a hearing about evidentiary disagreements between defense attorneys and the prosecution. It is expected to resume Monday, Nov. 7.

Wagner has been on trial for two months for his alleged role in killing eight members of a Pike County family in 2016. His defense attorneys, Richard Nash and John Parker, disagreed with the presentation of transcripts made by Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations agents from wiretap recordings made of the Wagner family in 2018, before they were arrested in November.

The transcripts were voluminous, and prosecutors haven’t given the defense enough time to go over the specific portions the prosecution plans to play, Parker argued.

Judge Randy Deering noted that there were parenthetical notations made in the transcripts identifying who the BCI agent transcribing the audio believed a person was speaking of, and ordered those notations be taken out before the transcripts could be shown to the jury. As a result, that evidence could not be presented to the jury on Friday.

Another point of contention between the parties centered on photographs, taken by BCI agent Ryan Scheiderer last week, depicting a re-enactment the prosecution created involving the pick-up truck the Wagner family allegedly used in the murders in 2016.

Angela Canepa, special prosecutor, said the re-enactment — in which two BCI agents, both larger than Jake and George were at the time of the murders, crawl beneath the false bed of the truck created with boards — was performed because defense attorneys have tried to argue that Wagner was too large to fit beneath the false bed.

Parker pointed out that brother Jake Wagner was never asked, while he was on the witness stand, whether the way prosecutors crafted the false bed was accurate to how he’d built it in 2016. Canepa argued that he had described verbally how he’d built it, including which boards were placed vertically, which horizontally and where. She pointed out the defense never questioned Jake about it themselves during their cross examination of him — and that nothing prevented defense attorneys from creating their own re-enactment as well.

Parker became frustrated, arguing the photos hadn’t been available to him while Jake was on the stand.

“You had his words, just like we had,” said Canepa.

“Well, words don’t mean much, do they?” said Parker, tossing the photos on the table.

Deering said he was inclined to allow the photos of the re-enactment to be shown to the jury, but he said he would caution them to determine themselves what weight the evidence should have in their decision of the case.

The prosecution had planned to wrap up their side of the case Friday and cede the floor to the defense’s witnesses Monday; as a result, witnesses Monday could be presented out of order, with the defense calling their witnesses as the prosecution tries to finish their case.

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.

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