Ohio family murders suspect arrested in Kentucky returning to Ohio to face charges
A man who is among four suspects arrested in connection to the “execution-style” murder of eight family members will be returned to Ohio to face charges after appearing in a Kentucky courtroom Wednesday afternoon and waiving his right to an extradition hearing.
George “Billy” Wagner III, 47, was taken into custody Tuesday in Lexington, Kentucky, while his wife, 48-year-old Angelea Wagner, and their two sons, 27-year-old George Wagner IV and 26-year-old Edward “Jake” Wagner were arrested in Ohio. All four are accused of planning and carrying out the murders of eight members of the Rhoden family in their homes in Ohio’s Pike County in 2016.
The victims who were shot to death were Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 37; their three children, Hanna May Rhoden, 19; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20. Frankie Rhoden’s finacee, Hannah “Hazel Gilley,” 20, was also killed, along with the brother and cousin of Christopher Rhoden Sr., Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and Gary Rhoden, 38, respectively.
The four suspects are each charged with eight counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told reporters at a press conference Tuesday. DeWine said he believes the killers have been caught and that no one else was involved in the murders.
The Wagner family attorney, John Kearson Clark Jr., said his clients will “vindicate their names” in court.
“Given the fact that they have been indicted with capital murder and death penalty specifications, we respectfully decline making any statements at this time. However, the Wagners eagerly look forward to their trials, and to have their day in court so they can vindicate their names,” Clark said in a statement reviewed by ABC News Wednesday morning.
“The Wagners are also ever hopeful that in the ensuing months there will be a thorough vetting of all the facts. Moreover, we look forward to the day when the true culprit(s) will be discovered and brought to justice for this terrible tragedy.”
‘Killed in cold blood’
Seven of the Rhoden family members were discovered dead on April 22, 2016, in three separate homes along the same road in Peebles, a small village about 70 miles east of Cincinnati, while the eighth victim was found nearby in Piketon, according to officials. Many appeared to have been shot in their sleep, and one of the women was found lying in bed with a 4-day-old baby.
“All eight victims were killed in cold blood,” DeWine, who is now Ohio’s governor-elect, told reporters Tuesday. “They were shot in their own homes. They were brutally and viciously executed.”
The 4-day-old was one of three children, along with a 6-month old and a 3-year-old, that were found unharmed at the three crime scenes, police said.
DeWine accused the Wagners of spending months carefully planning the murder of the victims, who he characterized as friends of theirs. The Wagners “studied the victims’ habits and routines. They knew the layouts of their homes. They knew where they slept,” according to the attorney general.
All eight victims were killed in cold blood. They were shot in their own homes. They were brutally and viciously executed.
“The killers knew the territory and meticulously planned these horrendous murders,” DeWine said.
The suspects allegedly purchased ammunition, a magazine clip, brass catchers and a bug detector in preparation for the crimes, according to their indictments.
“They did this quickly, coldly, calmly and very carefully, but not carefully enough,” Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader told reporters at Tuesday’s press conference. He described the crime scenes as something he’ll never be able to un-see.
“Images of the houses, the bodies, the scenes, I can never erase them,” the sheriff said. “Even 20 years of law enforcement experience cannot prepare you fully for a day like that.”
Custody battle ‘plays a role’
The Wagners allegedly tampered with evidence after the murders were carried out, including cameras, a silencer, shell casings, parts of a home security system and the victims’ cellphones, DeWine said. They face additional charges, including, conspiracy, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with evidence, unlawful possession of a dangerous ordinance, aggravated burglary for allegedly breaking into the homes to carry out the murders, unauthorized use of property, obstruction of justice, interception of wire, oral or electronic communications and forgery for allegedly forging child custody documents, according to DeWine.
While the attorney general did not discuss the motive of the murders, DeWine said the custody of a young child “plays a role in this case.”
The Wagners eagerly look forward to their trials, and to have their day in court so they can vindicate their names … Moreover, we look forward to the day when the true culprit(s) will be discovered and brought to justice for this terrible tragedy.
Jake Wagner is also charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for allegedly having sexual contact with Hanna May Rhoden when she was 15 and he was 20, DeWine said. Jake Wagner is the father of Hanna May Rhoden’s older daughter, who was staying with the Wagners on the night the homicides took place, according to DeWine.
The mothers of both Angela Wagner and Billy Wagner, Rita Newcomb, 65, and Fredericka Wagner, 76, respectively, are also facing felony charges of obstructing justice and perjury for allegedly misleading authorities over the course of the investigation, DeWine said. Newcomb is also charged with forgery.
All of the suspects were arrested without incident. The family members are currently being housed in separate facilities, according to the sheriff.
Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk cautioned that the trials could last several years and the case may have to be relocated due to the publicity.
“There is a lot of hard work ahead of us. I cannot emphasize that enough,” Junk told reporters Tuesday. “An indictment is only the beginning of the case.”
ABC News’ Alyssa Acquavella, Rachel Katz, Emily Shapiro and Jason Volack contributed to this report.