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George 'Billy' Wagner, suspect in Ohio family murders, appears in court

George 'Billy' Wagner III is heading back to Ohio to face eight counts of murder in mass family slaying after waiving extradition in Kentucky.
Image: George Wagner III
Fayette County Sheriff's deputy Corey Boston held the door as George "Billy" Wagner III entered Fayette County District Court in Lexington, KY. on Nov. 14, 2018.WLEX-TV Pool via AP

One of a family of suspects accused of executing eight members of another family on an Ohio marijuana farm is headed back to the Buckeye State.

George "Billy" Wagner III, 47, was hiding in a horse trailer outside of a veterinary hospital when he was arrested by police in Lexington, Kentucky, on Tuesday, LEX18 reported. He had reportedly taken a horse there for treatment.

Wagner's wife, Angela, 48, and their two adult sons, George Wagner IV, 27, and Edward "Jake" Wagner, 26, were also arrested around the same time in Ohio for the shocking murders.

The patriarch appeared in a district court in Lexington, where he was asked what he wanted to do about extradition. "I guess head back to Ohio," he answered, according to WCPO.

Court appearances for the four Wagner family members are pending. Officials say they need lawyers who are eligible to handle death penalty cases. All four are charged with eight counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications for the April 22, 2016, slayings of members of the Rhoden family on their farm.

Court papers say the four went to different homes on the Rhodens' land, shooting their victims - whose ages ranged from 16 to 44 - multiple times.

Ohio State Attorney General Mike DeWine said the motive involved a custody dispute between Jake Wagner and one of the victims, Hanna Rhoden, 19. The two had a 2-year-old daughter together, and Rhoden had given birth to another girl just five days before her murder.

That baby was lying next to Hanna Rhoden when the mother was shot twice in the head.

Jake Wagner told the Cincinnati Enquirer in June 2016 that there was a "50/50 chance" that the newborn was his as well, and that the baby should be raised with her older sister. Paternity tests later showed he was not the father.

The daughter that was Wagner's, Sophia — now 5 — was staying with the Wagner family on the night of the Rhoden murders, per the terms of a custody agreement. Sophia lived with the Wagners full-time after the slayings.

A Rhoden relative, Sophia's great-grandfather, Leonard Manley, told the Enquirer that Sophia is safe and in state custody.

The murders stunned rural Pike County — as did the Wagners' arrests. DeWine noted the families had been friends for years, and Angela Wagner had once described Hanna Rhoden as "like a daughter" to her.

DeWine said the Wagners used their familiarity with the other family, including their security systems and their pets, to plot their deaths.

"It is our belief that the suspects used this knowledge to meticulously plan these horrendous, cold-blooded murders," DeWine said Tuesday.

The indictments said the Wagner family bought ammunition, a magazine clip and a device called a brass catcher to catch spent cartridge casings. Authorities said they also had a homemade silencer.

They're also accused of tampering with the Rhodens' phones and security systems and forging custody documents.

Jake Wagner was hit with an additional charge of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for having sexual contact with Hanna Rhoden when she was 15 and he was 20.

Lawyer John Kearson Clark Jr., who represented the Wagners before their arrests, said in a statement to WCMH:"We look forward to the day when the true culprits will be discovered and brought to justice for this terrible tragedy."