WAVERLY, Ohio (WCMH) — The trial of the Wagner family patriarch will be delayed, with a new judge needing to be appointed to the case, Pike County Judge Randy Deering said Wednesday.
George “Billy” Wagner III, accused of murdering eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016 alongside the rest of his immediate family, appeared in a Pike County courtroom for a pretrial hearing Wednesday afternoon — and for the first time since his son George Wagner IV’s trial and sentencing.
The hearing, which lasted five minutes, centered on the outgoing judge. Deering is retiring, and his term ends on Feb. 8. Current Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk is set to take his place at the bench, but Junk’s prosecution of other Wagner family members produces a conflict of interest.
The Ohio Supreme Court is now tasked with appointing a new judge to Billy’s case, and then trial dates will likely be set in February, Deering said.
Billy faces 22 charges related to the killings, including eight counts of aggravated murder. After a weekslong trial, George was found guilty in November 2022 by a jury on the same slate of charges, and in December 2022 sentenced to life in prison without parole eligibility.
The night of April 21 and the morning of April 22, 2016, eight members of the Rhoden family were fatally shot. They included Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Dana Rhoden, 37; Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Hanna Rhoden, 19; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Hannah Gilley, 20; Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and Gary Rhoden, 38.
Nearly two years later, Billy, George, wife and mother Angela Wagner and son and brother Jake Wagner were arrested and charged. All four Wagners initially entered not-guilty pleas.
In 2021, Jake and Angela switched their pleas to guilty, striking a deal where prosecutors would not seek the death penalty if Jake and Angela also testified against George IV and Billy. Jake pleaded guilty to all charges, and Angela pleaded guilty to 14 charges — excluding the murder charges.
During George IV’s trial in the fall, Jake and Angela testified that George IV assisted in planning, executing, and trying to cover up the premeditated murders. George IV maintained his innocence when he took the stand for two days, denying he played any role in the accused crimes.
Prosecutors have said the motive behind the massacre stemmed from a custody battle between Jake and Hanna Rhoden over their daughter.