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George Wagner IV testifies in Pike County mass murder trial

George Wagner IV testifying during Pike County murder trial 11-16-22.jpg
Law & Crime Channel
George Wagner IV was convicted in the fatal shootings of eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016.

George Wagner IV said he doesn't understand why his family committed the murders. He said he doesn't believe his niece, Jake Wagner's daughter, was molested as Jake Wagner testified was his belief.

George Wagner IV took the stand in his defense Wednesday and denied involvement in the 2016 murders that his brother, Jake Wagner, confessed to.

Last year, Jake pleaded guilty to numerous murder charges in association with the deaths of eight members of the Rhoden family. Prosecutors say Jake was involved in a custody dispute with one of the victims.

The Wagners were first arrested in 2018.

George said he liked the Rhodens and was friends with some of the victims. He denied being involved in the murders or having any knowledge of the killings being planned.

George said he didn't believe Jake was capable of murder. Their father, Billy Wagner, also faces murder charges, and their mother, Angela Wagner, has already pleaded guilty to other charges.

Jake and Angela Wagner testified that George was involved in the murders.

George said he never would have let them carry out the plot if he had known about it. "I don't exactly know how, but I would have never let it happen," George testified.

George testified that he stopped participating in crimes with the family about two years earlier for his son, on the advice of a mentor.

He said he is ashamed of his family's involvement in the murders. "I don't even like calling him my brother anymore," George said on the stand.

George said he didn't think his family was involved in the crime, up until his brother and mother pleaded guilty.

George said he doesn't understand why his family committed the murders. He said he doesn't believe his niece, Jake Wagner's daughter, was molested as Jake Wagner testified was his belief.

George said both of his parents were paranoid, his mother mostly of kidnappers. His father was a doomsday prepper and would bury trucks and containers underground to stash food and water.

He says he was homeschooled, and his mother completed his school work for him to get a diploma.

George said his parents taught him from a young age to distrust law enforcement and involved him in crimes as a minor. "For every cop me or my brother would see, we'd get $1 when we were kids, and that goes back to like 8 years old, even before he started the theft," George said.

By the time he was 14, George said he and his brother were helping their parents steal diesel fuel from underground tanks using a hose and a fuel pump. "All of your truck stops and gas stations have huge tanks that sit underneath the ground and they're usually padlocked and you pull over and open the padlock, drop the hose in and you pump the fuel out of it," Wagner said.

George said they only stole diesel because "Gas explodes, diesel doesn't." He said the family used the fuel and sold it at half price.

George also testified the family stole truckloads of goods, once giving everyone they knew stolen boots.

When asked if there were other thefts he could describe, George replied, "How many do you want me to go into? Because I can go for days."

George described tense relationships with both of his parents, with lots of arguing with both of them, and fist fights with his dad.

He said he almost moved away from home as an adult because of tension with his mother, but didn't and now regrets it.

George's testimony is expected to continue on Thursday.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. Fox joined the WOSU newsroom from the Tribune Chronicle/Vindicator in the Youngstown area, where she’d been a reporter since 2014. Contact Renee at renee.fox@wosu.org.