WAVERLY, Ohio (WKRC) - A grandfather pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he broke into the homes of eight people and killed them over custody of his granddaughter.
George “Billy” Wagner, 47, faces the same charges as his wife, Angela, and two sons, George and Jake, in the Rhoden and Gilley murders. The four face the death penalty if convicted of the April 22, 2016 murders of Christopher Rhoden, Sr., Gary Rhoden, Kenneth Rhoden, Dana Rhoden, Frankie Rhoden, Hannah Gilley, Hanna Rhoden and Christopher Rhoden, Jr.
Hanna Rhoden’s 5-day-old daughter was sleeping in the bed next to her when she was shot. Frankie Rhoden and Hannah Gilley’s two young children were also in bed with them when they were killed.
Billy stands 6-feet-6-inches and was handcuffed at the wrists and ankles when he was led into the courtroom.
Dana Rhoden’s father, Leonard Manley, told Local 12 in May 2017 that the murders of his family were related to a dispute over custody of a little girl Hanna Rhoden had with Jake Wagner. Manley said a few weeks before the murders, the Wagners tried to convince Hanna to sign over custody of the daughter she had with Jake. An argument ensued when she refused.
According to the indictment, the Wagners, Billy’s mother, and Angela’s mother, Rita Newcomb, forged custody documents on April 3, 2016 -- 19 days before the murders.
Jake petitioned the court for custody of his daughter six days after the murders. He was awarded full custody in June 2016. Jake is also charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for his sexual relationship with Hanna.
George Wagner’s attorney, Richard Nash, said last week that his client has been interviewed repeatedly by investigators working the case and that he had cooperated. All of the Wagners have been interviewed by law enforcement several times.
But prosecutors have said the Wagners plotted revenge against anyone who went against them if they were arrested, including Attorney General Mike DeWine, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader and BCI agent Ryan Scheiderer. Prosecutors said the Wagners also planned to escape.
A little more than a year after the murders, the four Wagners moved to Alaska with Jake and George’s children after selling their home in Adams County. Angela Wagner told Local 12 at the time that it was a long-planned vacation.
The Wagners moved back to Ohio earlier in 2018.
A special grand jury began hearing testimony in the case in July. Fredericka Wagner is charged with lying to the grand jury that month. She has pleaded not guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice charges.
Newcomb is also charged with perjury for lying to the grand jury in July. She pleaded guilty to that charge along with obstruction of justice and forgery. Both grandmothers posted bail and are on house arrest.
Billy is being held in the Butler County Jail without bail. His family members are being held in separate jails in Franklin, Ross and Delaware counties. All are held without bail and will appear in court later in December and in January.
Billy has a prior felony conviction for receiving stolen property in 2001. He was sentenced to probation.