Pike County murder trial: Prosecution will no longer seek death penalty

WAVERLY — George Wagner IV will no longer face the death penalty as his trial continues.

During the week of Thanksgiving the jury was given a break, but court was still held to argue procedural hearings, during which the prosecution said they intend to drop the death specifications against the defendant in agreement with plea deals formed with Jake and Angela Wagner.

Both Jake and Angela entered into plea agreements that traded their testimony in any trials for the murders for the dismissal of the death penalty against all four members of the Wagner family accused of murdering eight people in Pike County in 2016.

Jurors will return on Monday, Nov. 28, upon which the prosecution will announce to them they are no longer considering the death penalty in this case.

George — 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.

One of the hearings Monday was one held over a Rule 29 motion; A Rule 29 motion can be filed by defense attorneys after the prosecution rests its case to ask the judge to acquit their client of some or all charges if there is a lack of evidence for the jury to reasonably reach a guilty verdict.

During the hearing, Richard Nash, defense attorney for George, and Angela Canepa, special prosecutor, argued each charge before Deering and whether the state has presented enough evidence throughout the trial for a jury to find George guilty.

Ultimately, the Rule 29 motion was denied for each of the 22 counts George faces, including the eight counts of aggravated murder.

Another hearing was one over venue. Because Dana Rhoden’s home, in which she, Hanna May and Chris Jr. were murdered, is across the Scioto County line, defense attorneys argue charges related to that scene shouldn’t apply to this trial, held in Pike County.

Canepa cited section 2901.12 of the Ohio Revised Code, specifically section H, which states that when an offender commits offenses in different jurisdictions, they can be tried for all offenses in any jurisdiction in which the offenses happened.

“We still maintain our earlier position pretrial that that statute is unconstitutional,” said Parker.

Deering acknowledged Parker’s comment, but ruled in favor of the prosecution that George can be tried for the murders of Dana, Chris Jr. and Hanna May in Pike County, despite the crime scene’s location.

After spending the afternoon arguing off the record and in judge’s chambers, the defense and prosecution declined to do anything further on the record Monday.

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