A WITNESS who found his cousin’s body after a brutal massacre that left eight people dead has broken down in tears during the murder trial.
Donald Stone was one of the first civilian witnesses to take the stand in the trial – but was overcome with emotion as he took the stand to talk about one of the victims, his cousin Kenneth Rhoden.
Stone broke down on the stand as he recalled finding his cousin’s body on April 22, 2016.
Kenneth was found separate from the other victims, shot just once through his eye.
Stone recalled how he grew up with Kenneth and how they attended an auction together before his cousin died.
“Just about anytime I was down and out, the man was there to help me,” Stone said while on the stand.
As audio of the 911 call Stone placed played in the courtroom, and as photos of the gruesome scene were shown, Stone broke down.
He was unable to continue for several minutes, according to FOX19.
Kenneth’s mother was also in the courtroom, also breaking down at the photos being shown, the outlet reports.
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Kenneth’s son, Luke, was with Stone on April 22, 2016.
Upon learning that other members of the family had been killed, the two went to check on Kenneth at the camper where he lived on Left Fork Road.
Stone went into the bedroom, leaving Luke in the living room.
“He ran past me and told me to get out. Like, he’d been shot,” Luke told jurors on Thursday.
Luke told FOX19 that he “can’t wait ’til it’s [the trial] over, really.”
He said it was “nerve-wracking” to take the witness stand, and that the experience was “hard” on his mental state.
OBSESSED WITH GAINING CONTROL
The Wagner family is allegedly responsible for the murders and spent months planning the attack.
George IV’s younger brother, Jake Wagner, and his mother, Angela Wagner pleaded guilty to their roles last year.
They are scheduled to testify against George IV during the trial.
A fourth Wagner family member, George “Billy” Wagner III, is still awaiting trial. He has pleaded not guilty.
Jake Wagner, 29, had a daughter with one of the victims, Hanna Rhoden, who was 19 years old when she died.
The families from southern Ohio had been close for years. Then the Wagner family became obsessed with gaining control over Jake’s daughter, Special prosecutor Angela Canepa said.
However, Hanna, the child’s mother, said four months prior to the massacre that “they will have to kill me first,” before she signed away custody in a Facebook post.
Jake said he initially pushed back when his parents suggested killing Rhoden, but then relented, according to Canepa.
The family decided to kill four members of the Roden family because they believed Jake’s daughter was being raised around dangerous people, Canepa said.
However, this number jumped to eight during the slayings, to make sure no one could point the finger at them, a prosecutor said in court on Monday.
Some of the victims were treated as “collateral damage” by the Wagners, Canepa said.
“They knew that there might be other people there and agreed they would need to be killed too,” she said. “People they had no issue with, they were willing to kill them indiscriminately.”
Seven adults and one teenager were shot in cold blood while they were sleeping on a night in April of 2016.
Prosecutors said the Wagners used guns with homemade silencers, allowing them to kill their victims as they slept.
Jake pleaded guilty to shooting five of the victims and will testify against his brother, George Wagner IV, 30, as part of his plea deal that prevents him from getting the death penalty.
The family traveled across three trailers and a camper as they allegedly killed Hannah, along with her relatives: Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, his ex-wife, Dana Rhoden, 37, and their three children, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Christopher Jr., 16, and Hanna.
Clarence’s fiancee, Hannah Gilley, Christopher Sr.’s brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and a cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38, were also among those murdered.
Most of the victims were repeatedly shot in the head, and some showed signs of bruising. Three young children at the scenes were unharmed.
Authorities said they targeted some of the victims, but “some sadly were killed because they happened to be there,” a prosecutor said on Monday.
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