WAVERLY, Ohio — An Ohio man accused of helping his family kill eight members of another family had no reason to take part and wasn't even there, his attorney told trial jurors Tuesday during closing arguments.
George Wagner IV, his brother and parents were charged in the 2016 shooting deaths of seven adults and a teenager from the Rhoden family. The 31-year-old Wagner wasn’t accused of killing any of the victims, but prosecutors say he knew what would happen and participated in the plans.
Wagner testified earlier this month that he didn't know anything about his relatives’ involvement in the killings and that he would not have let it happen if he had been aware.
“He didn’t kill anybody, and he didn’t go along because it makes no sense,” Wagner's attorney, John Parker, told jurors.
Wagner, his attorney said, was not like the rest of his family and could not be persuaded by them to kill anyone.
Prosecutors have said the slayings stemmed from a custody dispute over the child of Wagner's younger brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner.
Special prosecutor Angela Canepa said that George Wagner was with his brother and his father when they drove to three separate locations where all eight victims were killed, went inside with the pair and helped Jake Wagner move two of the bodies.
George Wagner testified that he was at home sleeping on the night of the slayings and learned that the Rhodens were dead from TV reports.
Jake Wagner earlier testified as part of a deal that spared him the death penalty that he killed five of the eight victims. He said he felt he had no choice but to kill the mother of his toddler daughter because he feared for the girl’s safety. He implicated his and George Wagner's father in the other three slayings.
Jake Wagner also testified that George Wagner was supposed to kill Chris Rhoden Sr. but didn’t fire the gun, so Jake Wagner shot Rhoden himself. George Wagner’s attorney on Tuesday tried to raise doubts about the younger brother’s testimony, saying the timeline and details he described didn't add up.
Angela Wagner, the mother of Jake and George, earlier pleaded guilty to helping plan the slayings but blamed the massacre on her husband, George “Billy” Wagner III. She said he believed the other family would seek revenge for the death of the mother of Jake's child and would kill Jake “if not all of us,” so the rest of her family “had to be murdered.”
George “Billy” Wagner III has pleaded not guilty and likely won’t go on trial until next year. The four members of the Wagner family were not arrested until more than two years after the April 2016 slayings.
Those killed were 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr.; his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; their three children, 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 16-year-old Christopher Jr., and 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden, the mother of Jake Wagner’s daughter; Clarence Rhoden’s fiancee, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; and a cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden.