WAVERLY, Ohio –
An Ohio man convicted of shooting five of eight family members killed in a 2016 massacre testified Monday that he had no choice but to kill the mother of his child.
Last year, Jake Wagner pleaded guilty to shooting five victims, an attack that investigators said was caused by a custody dispute between the two families.
As part of the plea agreement, Jake Wagner agreed to testify against his brother, George Wagner IV, in exchange for an immunity from the death penalty.
George Wagner IV, whose trial has entered its eighth week in Pike County court, faces the death penalty if he is convicted of the Rhoden family murders near Piketon. George Wagner was the first person to stand trial for murder.
Jake and George’s mother, Angela Wagner, also pleaded guilty to helping plan the murders, and is expected to testify. Jake and George’s father, George “Billy” Wagner III, has pleaded not guilty. He likely won’t appear in court until next year. The four members of the Wagner family were not arrested until more than two years after the murder.
Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa has not accused 31-year-old George Wagner of shooting anyone in April 2016, but she said he was involved in the planning, execution and cover-up of “one of the crimes the worst evil in Ohio history.”
The two families have been close for years, but Canepa describes Wagner as obsessed with gaining control of the child Jake Wagner had with Hanna Rhoden.
The Wagner family pressured Hanna Rhoden to give up custody of their 3-year-old daughter, but Hanna swore in a Facebook message sent four months before the massacre that “they would have to kill me first,” Canepa said.
Jake Wagner, who said he feared his daughter could be abused, testified on Monday that Hanna Rhoden’s comments were his “tipping point” as he decided Hanna, 19, must died.
George Wagner accompanied his brother and father as they drove to three separate locations where all eight victims were killed, entering the same couple and helping his brother move two of the bodies, Canepa said earlier.
Jake Wagner testified Monday that it was the moment that led him to conclude that he must have killed Hanna, who was 19 at the time of her death. He said the other intended victims were Hanna’s brothers Frankie and Chris Rhoden and their father, Chris Rhoden Sr.. Four other victims were killed because they could be witnesses, Jake Wagner testified.
Jake Wagner also testified that George Wagner allegedly killed Chris Rhoden Sr. but didn’t open fire, so Jake Wagner shot Rhoden himself.
Defense attorney Richard Nash said George Wagner was unlike the rest of the family and had nothing to do with the murder.
The Wagners spent three months planning the massacre, Canepa said, purchasing masks, ammunition and a device to jam phone signals. The brothers even dyed their hair in the week leading up to the murder, she said.
According to Canepa, several discoveries led investigators to Wagner, including an artillery shell found outside Wagner’s home that matched one from the gun that killed five of the victims.
Those killed were Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40 years old; his ex-wife, Dana Rhoden, 37 years old; their three children, 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 16-year-old Christopher Jr., and Hanna; Clarence Rhoden’s fiancée, Hannah Gilley, 20; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and a cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38.