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A man convicted of killing eight members of a family in southern Ohio in 2016 will not face the death penalty.
Closing arguments are scheduled for next week in the Pike County trial of George Wagner IV, 31. He was arrested along with three of his relatives more than two years after seven members of the Roden family and the fiancee of one of them were shot dead at several different locations in August 2016.
Prosecutors agreed in September not to seek the death penalty against Wagner and his father, who will be tried later, along with the other two family members who agreed to testify. Special prosecutor Angela Canepa on Tuesday rejected the specifics of the death penalty, saying the action was “not a merit-based decision.”
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Jurors will be informed of the verdict before arguments begin on Monday and Tuesday. The prosecution and defense rested their cases on Friday. Wagner is not accused of shooting anyone, but is accused of allegedly planning, carrying out and covering up the killings, which authorities say stemmed from a custody dispute.
Canepa has alleged that Wagner accompanied his brother and his father when they visited the sites where the victims were killed, went inside with the couple, and helped his brother carry the two bodies.
However, Wagner testified that he was asleep in the house on the night of the murders. He said he learned Rodens was dead from TV reports, calling the news “heartbreaking”. On cross-examination, Canepa attacked his credibility, citing inconsistencies between his testimony and his 2017 statements to the authorities.
His younger brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner, testified as part of a deal that earned him the death penalty. He said he killed five of the eight victims and implicated their fathers in the other three murders. He said that he felt he had no option but to kill the mother of his child as he feared for the child’s safety.
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Jake and George’s mother, Angela Wagner, had previously pleaded guilty to helping plan the murders but accused her husband, George “Billy” Wagner III, of the massacre. She said she believed the other family would try to avenge the woman’s death and kill Jake “if not all of us,” adding that the rest of her family “had to be murdered.”
George Wagner III has pleaded not guilty and likely won’t go to trial until next year.
Among those killed were Christopher Roden Sr., 40; Dana Roden, 37, his ex-wife; the mother of their three children, Clarence “Frankie” Roden, 20, Christopher Roden Jr., 16, and Hanna Roden, 19, Jake Wagner’s daughter; Hannah Gilley, 20, fiancée of Clarence Roden; Kenneth Roden, 44, brother of Christopher Roden Sr.; and Gary Rhoden, 38, a cousin.
Ohio mass murder suspect won’t face death if convicted
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