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Ohio man is sentenced to life behind bars for his role in family massacre of 8

Prosecutors said George Wagner IV and his family plotted to kill the Rhoden family over a custody dispute.
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A man was sentenced to life behind bars, with no hope of parole, on Monday for his role in the killings of eight members of an Ohio family whose lives were "cruelly taken" one night in 2016.

George Wagner IV stood, looked straight ahead and showed no emotion as Pike County Court of Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering ordered him to serve eight consecutive life sentences plus 121 more years.

Wagner was convicted last month on eight counts of aggravated murder and other charges related to conspiracy and attempts to cover up evidence in the 2016 massacre of the Rhoden family.

Wagner, 31, and his family plotted to kill the Rhodens over a custody dispute involving Wagner’s brother Edward “Jake” Wagner and one of the victims, Hanna Rhoden, who shared a toddler daughter, prosecutors said.

In addition to Hanna Rhoden, 19, the victims were her parents, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, and Dana Rhoden, 37; her brothers: Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, and Christopher Jr., 16; Clarence Rhoden’s fiancée, Hannah Gilley, 20; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and a cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38.

They were all gunned down in or near their four homes in rural southern Ohio.

“No sentence that the court may impose in this case would right the wrong that was inflicted upon the victims and the families. Murder is an irreversible act. And although time may alleviate the pain of loss, it has not, obviously, at this point — and may never," Deering said after loved ones of victims addressed the court. 

"It will not and cannot restore to the victims’ families what was and what might have been had the lives of their loves not been unlawfully taken and cruelly taken on that night in April in 2016."

More than a half-dozen of the victims' loved ones took the podium in Deering's court and detailed the years of heartache they have endured and will continue to suffer in the wake of the slayings.

"There's a special place in hell for you and your entire family," said Bobby Jo Manley, Dana Rhoden's sister. "I hope your life is long and miserable. I hope you think of my family and what you have done every day for the rest of your miserable existence."

Andrea Shoemaker, Gilley's mother, said she takes solace that all of the defendants will most likely spend the rest of their lives in prison and not get to raise children.

"How sick and twisted is the Wagner family? Thank God none of you get to raise those kids to be adults, because those poor babies would've turned out like you, George Wagner, and the rest of your family are," Shoemaker said.

"I pray, Judge Deering, that you see the true devil that George Wagner IV really is and make him suffer."

Wagner, who was not accused of shooting anyone, testified at his trial that he was unaware of his family’s deadly plans.

But Deering said Wagner, even if he didn't physically pull a trigger, still bears great responsibility for the murder spree in which at least six of the victims were killed in their sleep.

"The court does find these murders do constitute the worst form of the offense," Deering said. "They involve the invasion of the victims’ homes."

Wagner declined his opportunity to address the court before Deering imposed the sentence.

"He was there and participated, and certainly there was no effort made to stop the crimes from taking place," Deering said. "In fact, by the testimony, the defendant was a willful planner and willful participant in the crimes."

The death penalty had been taken off the table in an agreement between prosecutors and other members of the Wagner family in exchange for their testimony against him.

Both Wagner brothers and their parents, Angela Wagner and George “Billy” Wagner III, were charged in connection with the slayings. George “Billy” Wagner III has pleaded not guilty.

Angela Wagner pleaded guilty to a role in helping to plan the killings in exchange for a 30-year sentence. Jake Wagner last year confessed to shooting five of the Rhoden family victims in exchange for the death penalty’s being removed as a possible punishment.