Witness breaks down on the stand describing finding his cousin dead in the Rhoden family massacre

A witness broke down on the stand Thursday while describing how he found his cousin shot dead in his home, as the extent of the massacre of eight members of the Rhoden family in Ohio six years ago continues to unfold.

Donald Stone testified Thursday that he found his cousin, Kenneth Rhoden, shot dead in his home. He said he went looking for him after concerned family members and loved ones began to gather at a nearby church as news began to spread that something had happened to the Rhoden family.

Kenneth was the eighth and final member of the Rhoden family found dead in the April 2016 killings.

Stone said he called his cousin from the church and when he received no response he made his way to the home along with Rhoden’s son, Luke.

Image: Donald Stone
Donald Stone wipes tears as he testifies about the Rhoden family massacre.WLWT

“I found him right there in his bed,” Stone said, crying as he spoke. “He had blood all over his eyes.”

Stone’s testimony is part of the murder trial of George Wagner IV, 30, who is accused of helping his family in a murder plot against 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. 

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, while Angela Wagner and Jake Wagner pleaded guilty to their roles in the killings as part of plea deal arrangements.

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.

Stone said during his testimony that after finding Rhoden dead, he left the home to call 911. Prosecutors played the 911 call in which Stone told dispatchers he had just found his cousin dead with a gunshot wound.

Stone said police handcuffed him when they arrived on scene and put him in a police cruiser to take him to the police station for questioning.

Stone was visibly emotional throughout his testimony, crying and wiping his eyes with a tissue.

He broke down and wept as he was shown photos from the crime scene of his cousin’s lifeless body. 

Stone said he and Kenneth Rhoden had been close their whole lives.

“Anytime that I was down and out, the man was there to help me,” he said.

Kenneth Rhoden’s son, Luke, also testified Thursday that he accompanied Stone to his father’s house, where they discovered he had been killed. Rhoden said he did not see his father’s injuries as Stone went in first and told Rhoden his father had been shot and they needed to leave.

During his testimony, Luke Rhoden said the families were familiar with one another. He described an encounter during which he said that Christopher Rhoden Sr. and his father once lent George “Billy” Wagner III a backhoe. Rhoden said he, Kenneth Rhoden and Christopher Rhoden Sr. were on a Wagner property and attempting to start the backhoe when Billy Wagner told him that his father and Christopher Rhoden Sr. were “some real good people,” but that if “he had ever to f— with them” he would have to shoot them.

The defense asked Stone and Rhoden what they knew about Kenneth Rhoden’s cannabis grow operations and if Rhoden was engaged in “trafficking” cannabis. Both men said they were aware of Rhoden growing cannabis and Luke Rhoden gave details about his father selling cannabis.

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.

source: nbcnews.com