Wagner IV

George Wagner IV, seen here leaving the Pike County Courthouse following a September 2021 hearing, is facing 22 charges for his alleged involvement in the 2016 Rhoden murders.

WAVERLY— An attempt to clear aggravated murder charges of a suspect in the 2016 Rhoden murders proved unsuccessful following a motion hearing at the Pike County Courthouse this week.

Hearing arguments, Judge Randy Deering denied the motion of the George Wagner IV defense during a Tuesday motion hearing. With aggravated murder charges still on the table, the death penalty remains a chance for the eldest Wagner brother.

Defense attorney John Parker addressed the court, saying that case law showed that the death penalty only applies to the worst of the worst offenders.

Following Edward “Jake” Wagner’s, George Wagner IV’s younger brother, guilty plea made in April 2021, Parker argued that “worst of the worst” does not apply to his client.

“It is unequivocal, it is without question that, according to Jake Wagner, George did not shoot or kill anybody that is a victim in this case,” Parker said, George Wagner IV also represented by Richard Nash. “He did not pull a trigger once.”

Jake Wagner admitted to killing five members of the Rhoden family and shooting a sixth during the April 22, 2016 shootings. That day, eight lost their lives at shootings at four separate Pike County homes.

Those murdered include: Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 37, and their three children, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20. Frankie Rhoden’s fiancée, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20, was also killed, along with the elder Christopher Rhoden’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and cousin Gary Rhoden, 38.

Jake’s deal was made to avoid the death penalty in exchange for a life sentence, an agreement which Parker described as a “deal with the devil.”

The death penalty will also be removed in George Wagner IV’s case if Jake testifies to the state’s satisfaction. Keeping the death penalty alive in this case however, Parker said was a constitutional breech.

“We think it’s an absolute abuse of power and waste of state resources to continue seeking the death penalty from this point forward,” he said.

Angela Canepa of the state prosecution team said similar deals were offered to all four of the Wagners- also including father, George “Billy” Wagner III, and Angela Wagner, mother. Parker said his client did not accept a deal offer since he maintains his innocence.

Canepa said the deal with Jake shed light on a myriad of details, leading the state to physical evidence — the vehicle used that April evening — a lengthy interview, and perhaps some peace to the family and friends of the victims

“They said we made a deal with the devil, unfortunately there’s more than one devil in this case,” she said. “That is all four of the individuals charged in this matter.”

The defense also requested that 10 excerpts, which Parker said were “highly relevant”, from over 12 hours of those interviews with Jake to be heard by the court.

The state objected to that motion and following a brief conversation at the bench, Deering said he did not want to try the case before the trial and sustained the objection.

“There are definite contradictory statements that were made by Mr. Wagner and it was 12 hours long,” said Canepa.

George Wagner IV’s next motion hearing is set for Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. His jury trial is set for Monday, April 4, 2022.

Contact Patrick Keck at pkeck@newswatchman.com or by phone at 740-947-2149, ext. 300431 and follow him on Twitter @pkeckreporter.

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