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Ohio governor says guilty verdict in 2016 family massacre ‘brings us one step closer to achieving justice’

<i>Robert McGraw/The Chillicothe Gazette/AP</i><br/>George Wagner IV seen as he walks into the courtroom at the Pike County Courthouse for his arraignment on November 28
Robert McGraw/The Chillicothe Gazette/AP
George Wagner IV seen as he walks into the courtroom at the Pike County Courthouse for his arraignment on November 28

By Raja Razek, CNN

An Ohio man accused along with his family members of the 2016 massacre of another family was found guilty of multiple murder charges Wednesday.

A jury convicted George Wagner IV in the murders of eight people, seven of whom were members of the Rhoden family, who were all shot to death in April 2016 at four crime scenes in around the small town of Piketon, Ohio.

In addition to eight counts of aggravated murder, Wagner was also convicted of tampering with evidence and conspiracy, Judge Randy Deering announced.

The verdict “brings us one step closer to achieving justice,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday. DeWine was the state’s attorney general at the time of the killings.

The victims were Hanna May Rhoden, 19; Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his brother Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; and Christopher’s ex-wife, Dana Rhoden, 37. Also killed were two of the Rhodens’ other children, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Gary Rhoden, 38, a cousin.

The eighth victim was Hannah Gilley, who was engaged to Clarence Rhoden.

George Wagner IV is one of six members of the Wagner family who have faced charges related to the case.

In 2018, a grand jury in Pike County also indicted his father George “Billy” Wagner III, his mother Angela Wagner and his brother Edward “Jake” Wagner, on several offenses, including eight counts each of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications. Two grandmothers of the Wagner family were also charged in an alleged cover-up of the crime, DeWine said at the time.

“We believe that the Wagners conspired together to develop an elaborate plan to kill the eight victims under the cover of darkness and then carefully cover up their tracks,” DeWine said in 2018.

Jake Wagner struck a plea deal last year when he agreed to life in prison without parole, CNN affiliate WKRC reported. The plea was entered on the fifth anniversary of the killings, according to the outlet.

Additionally, Jake Wagner was charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor over sexual contact with one of the victims, Hanna May Rhoden, when she was 15 and he was 20, prosecutors said at the time. Jake Wagner is the father of her older daughter, who was staying with the Wagners on the night of the killings, prosecutors said.

Angela Wagner pleaded guilty last year to lesser charges and at least 30 years in prison, according to WKRC.

“Our society reveres mothers for taking care of their children and teaching them to do the right thing, even when it’s hard. But by actively plotting the murder of an entire family and encouraging her own kids to carry out the violence, Angela Wagner abjectly failed in her responsibilities,” current Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a September 2021 statement on her plea agreement.

“Today, the Rhoden and the Gilley families could take some comfort knowing that George Wagner has been convicted, and he will be punished as well his brother Jake and his mother Angela,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday during a news conference.

Another suspect is set to go on trial this year

Billy Wagner has pleaded not guilty and is set to go on trial later this year, per WKRC.

“Billy Wagner’s fate will also be determined, and I will remain steadfast in my belief that everyone who was involved in these murders will get what they deserve,” DeWine said.

The massacre rattled the small community of Piketon, home to about 2,000 residents and located roughly 80 miles east of Cincinnati. The Wagners are from South Webster, about a 30-mile drive southeast of Piketon.

At one of the four crime scenes, police found a 4-day-old baby next to his slain mother. That child, along with a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old, survived.

Authorities at the time said the suspects spent months planning the killings and left traces behind.

Prosecutors hadn’t disclosed a motive at the time but alluded to the custody of a child that may have played “a role in this case.” The Wagners were also accused of forging custody documents, prosecutors previously said.

“They left a trail: The parts to build a silencer, the forged documents, the cameras, cell phones — all that they tampered with, and the lies,” Pike County Sheriff Charles S. Reader said at the time of their arrests.

The governor on Wednesday thanked law enforcement involved in “this very difficult and complicated case.”

“They helped uncover nearly 5,000 pieces of evidence. They put this case together. They figured out what at the time seemed like such an implausible motive — the custody of a child — for the murder of eight innocent people, but they did it,” DeWine said.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Aya Elamroussi contributed to this report.

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