Witness describes 'blood everywhere' at scenes of Ohio family massacre

  • In US
  • 2022-09-13 23:33:18Z
  • By NBC News

On the first day of testimony in the murder trial of a man prosecutors say helped to plan and execute the killing of eight people in Ohio six years ago, a witness testified that "there was blood everywhere" when he arrived at the scene of the massacre.

James Manley, whose sister Dana Rhoden was killed along with her ex-husband, her three children and three other relatives, testified Tuesday afternoon that he went to his sister's house in April 2016 after going to a nearby family member's house and seeing that another member of the family had been killed.

When he reached the home, the door opened by itself and he entered yelling his sister's name, he said. When she didn't respond, Manley said he went into her bedroom, which was dark, began to touch the bed and found her body there.

"I was trying to get her awake," he said, but he couldn't.

So, he ran back out of the house, "because she was dead, too."

Manley was the third witness to testify Tuesday in the murder trial of George Wagner IV.

Wagner, 30, is accused of helping his family in a murder plot against the eight members of the Rhoden family over a custody dispute. Wagner is charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder and other charges related to conspiracy and attempts to cover up evidence.

He has pleaded not guilty and could face the death penalty if convicted.

The victims were Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his ex-wife, Dana Rhoden, 37; their three children: 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden, 20-year-old Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden and 16-year-old Christopher Jr.; Clarence Rhoden's fiancée, Hannah Gilley, 20; Christopher Rhoden Sr.'s brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and a cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38.

Clockwise from top left, Dana Manley Rhoden and Christopher Rhoden Sr.
Clockwise from top left, Dana Manley Rhoden and Christopher Rhoden Sr.  

Prosecutors say the custody dispute involved Wagner's brother, Edward "Jake" Wagner, and one of the victims, Hanna Rhoden, over their toddler daughter.

Manley testified that before he went to his sister's house, he and another family member had discovered Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden dead in another location and found a child that was alive but "covered in blood."

Multiple members of the Rhoden family were dead in that home, Manley testified, and there was blood on beds and on the walls.

Prosecutors have said a toddler and two infants - both found beside their dead mothers - were unharmed.

On cross-examination, a defense attorney asked Manley if he had been aware of cannabis "grow operations" on a Rhoden family property, which Manley denied, and if Christopher Rhoden Sr. was a "generous man" who gave family cash when they needed it, to which Manley agreed.

Two other witnesses, including Manley's sister Bobby Jo Manley, testified earlier Tuesday, but chose to opt out of having their testimony recorded on video or audio.

Both George Wagner IV and his brother Jake Wagner as well as their parents, Angela Wagner and George "Billy" Wagner III, have been charged with the murders. George "Billy" Wagner III has also pleaded not guilty.

Last year, Jake and Angela Wagner pleaded guilty to their roles in the killings. Jake Wagner confessed to killing five of the eight victims in a plea agreement that would spare him a death sentence. Prosecutors said Jake Wagner agreed to testify in trials for his other family members in exchange that they also not seek the death penalty in those cases. Angela Wagner pleaded guilty in exchange for a 30-year-sentence.

On Monday, the prosecution and defense presented their opening statements.

Angela Canepa, a special prosecutor in the case, described the Wagner family as very "insular" and said they did everything together, including voting to kill the Rhodens and buying and preparing everything necessary to enact their deadly plan.

George Wagner IV participated "in one of the most heinous crimes that has ever been committed in the state of Ohio," Canepa said.

"He participated in planning, preparing, purchasing, executing and covering up these crimes," she said.

The defense has sought to distance George Wagner IV from his family and the plan to kill the Rhodens.

Defense attorney Richard Nash Jr. said during opening statements that Jake Wagner's said in his confession that his brother "shot no one" and does not say George Wagner IV was greatly involved in planning the murders.

"George cannot help that he is a Wagner, that doesn't make him a murderer," Nash said.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com


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