Pre-trial for Billy Wagner, charged in murders of 8 Pike County family members, set for Wednesday

Next up in the years-long case of the execution-style killings of eight members of a Pike County, Ohio family is a pre-trial hearing for suspect George Washington “Billy” Wagner III.

In 2018, multiple members of Wagner’s family were arrested and charged with the April 22, 2016 murders of those eight Rhoden family members who were killed in the middle of the night as they slept. Found dead 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.

Testifying at Billy Wagner’s jury trial, which is likely to happen in 2024, will be his wife, Angela, and their youngest son, Jake. Both pleaded guilty to the murders in exchange for the removal of the death penalty from the case, and agreed to testify. His olden son, George Wagner IV, was found guilty of 22 counts against him after a lengthy trial in 2022. That included eight counts of aggravated murder in addition to tampering with evidence, conspiracy, forgery and aggravated burglary.

Billy Wagner’s pre-trial hearing is slated for Wed., Oct. 4 and it may be the final one ahead of his jury trial. He also faces 22 charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder, four counts of aggravated burglary and three counts of tampering with evidence.

The pre-trial was scheduled after a change of venue motion was filed by his attorneys in August and the prosecution filed a response. Time was given for the defense to file a response to that.

The defense wants it moved because of the notoriety of the trial locally.

Retired Brown County Common Pleas Court Judge R. Alan Corbin is overseeing the case now because the judge presiding over George Wagner IV’s trial, Court of Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering, retired in February. Deering was replaced by Rob Junk, who was a prosecutor in the 2022 trial, and that created a conflict of interest.

George Wagner IV’s trial lasted three months, ending Nov. 20, 2022. He received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole on all eight aggravated murder charges and was given an additional 121 years in prison for the other charges.

The trial was the first time a person faced a jury for the deaths of the Rhoden family seven years ago.

During his trial, special prosecutor Angela Canepa focused on testimonies of Wagner family members, telling the jury “they told the truth ... as horrific and disgusting as the truth is.” Testimony revealed steps taken in planning the killings.

George Wagner IV took the stand to testify during his trial. His defense team maintained he was not guilty.

Prosecutors and investigators have said the killings happened because of a custody dispute between Jake Wagner and murder victim Hanna May Rhoden, with whom he has a daughter who was born in November 2015.

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