Eight weeks into the trial of George Wagner IV, there is new insight into the motive behind the 2016 custody battle-turned-mass slaying of Pike County’s Rhoden family.
In his Oct. 24 testimony, Edward “Jake” Wagner said he had “no choice” but to kill Hanna Rhoden, the mother of his 3-year-old daughter, the Associated Press reports. The child was caught in a contentious custody battle between the Wagner family and the Rhoden family before the killings.
Jake Wagner pleaded guilty in 2021 to shooting five of eight Rhoden family members on April 22, 2016. He took the stand on Oct. 24 as part of a plea deal that spared him the death penalty.
Jake Wagner agreed to testify against his older brother, George Wagner IV, whose trial is currently in its eighth week in a Pike County court. George Wagner IV is also charged with killing the eight Rhoden family members:
- 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden
- 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr.
- 37-year-old Gary Rhoden
- 37-year-old Dana Rhoden
- 20-year-old Hannah Gilley
- 20-year-old Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden
- 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden
- 16-year-old Christopher Rhoden Jr.
Canepa told the court that members of the Wagner family spent months meticulously planning the killings, including buying a device to jam phone signals and two brothers dying their hair prior to the murders. After years without leads, then-Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine issued a public inquiry in search of George “Billy” Wagner III, Angela Wagner, and their sons George Wagner IV, and Jake Wagner, who all had relocated to Alaska sometime after the murders.
All four Wagners were charged with all eight murders, including a slew of other charges related to the killings like conspiracy, tampering with evidence and aggravated burglary.
Jake Wagner will take the stand again on Oct. 26 in the trial against George Wagner IV, who faces the death penalty if convicted. Angela Wagner has pleaded guilty to helping plan the slayings and will testify in the trial of George Wagner IV. However, George Wagner III pleaded not guilty and will go to trial sometime in 2023.
During early court proceedings on Oct. 26, the judge granted the defense's request to allow Jake Wagner's testimony to go unrecorded for the sake of his safety in prison, where he will live out the rest of his life.
Follow Madeline Fening on Twitter: @madeline_fening