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Closing arguments begin in George Wagner IV's Pike County murder trial

George Wagner IV was convicted in the fatal shootings of eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016.
Law & Crime Channel
George Wagner IV was convicted in the fatal shootings of eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016.

Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa spent Monday in Waverly recounting two-and-a-half months worth of testimony in the trial of George Wagner IV, one of the four family members accused of plotting and carrying out eight Pike County murders in 2016.

Wagner claimed he wasn't involved in the killings, and has pleaded not guilty to 22 charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder.

Wagner’s defense team will have a chance to present closing arguments before the case is handed off to the jury, likely before the end of the week.

Canepa argues the murders were another criminal scheme from a family immersed in lawlessness.

Canepa said the family worked together to steal fuel and truckloads of goods, in addition to committing arson and fraud. "They are not afraid to resort to crimes, and of course, ultimately the crimes that they committed in this case,” she argued.

The testimony Wagner gave in his defense describes a childhood wherein he and his brother were groomed from a young age to participate in criminal activity and avoid getting caught.

Canepa said the murders were a progression of those crimes and said the history can be considered by the jury. "So they're taught to spot surveillance cameras, they're taught to spot law enforcement, taught to work as a team. So again, those things you're allowed to consider, just for his identity as a part of this criminal enterprise and a part of this conspiracy, and later we'll talk a little bit more about complexity, as well."

When on the stand earlier in the trial, Wagner attempted to distance himself from his brother Jake, who admitted to shooting five of the eight victims. "But that distance does not exist,” Canepa said.

Canepa said the two brothers lived together, traveled together, worked together and committed other crimes together. She said they were enamored with the movie, “The Boondock Saints,” which is about brothers who commit crimes together.

Canepa says much of the evidence presented in the trial is circumstantial, but that it adds up. "Ballistic evidence, the shoe evidence, a silencer, the purchases they were making, the customer documents that they forged. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that is almost as good as us actually being there and seeing them commit these crimes,” she said.

Authorities found bloody prints that matched shoes Wagner’s mother was caught on surveillance video buying for both of her sons, as well as an attempted homemade silencer on the Wagner's property, spent ammunition that was linked to the murder weapon and evidence the Wagner family spied on the victims.

Canepa said Wagner's mother, Angela, and Jake, who both testified against him after agreeing to plea deals that took the death penalty off the table for the family, had no reason to lie about George's involvement. Their father George “Billy” Wagner is slated to stand trial at a later date. He is accused of shooting three of the victims.

Prosecutors say George may not have pulled the trigger during the rampage, but argue he was there that night, helped to plan the murders, and attempt to cover them up.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.