WAVERLY, Ohio (WCMH) — Five years to the day after eight members of the Rhoden family were shot and killed overnight in their homes, one of the people accused pleaded guilty to all related charges.
Edward “Jake” Wagner, who was 26 when he was charged in late 2018, changed his plea from not guilty on Tuesday in Pike County Common Pleas Court. Wagner faces a maximum of eight consecutive life sentences plus additional years in prison that could number in the hundreds.
“I am guilty, your honor,” Wagner said in a courtroom filled with members of the Rhoden family.
In addition to pleading guilty, Wagner has agreed to testify against his parents and brother, the others facing charges. In exchange, prosecutors said they will not seek the death penalty.
The victims were killed in four homes on April 21 and 22, 2016. The victims were: Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Dana Rhoden, 37; Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Hanna Rhoden, 19; Hannah Gilley, 20; Gary Rhoden, 38; and Kenneth Rhoden, 44.
After Wagner pleaded guilty, a prosecutor read a statement of facts that contained some previously unreleased information. It confirmed that the plot to kill the Rhoden family members stemmed from a failing relationship between Wagner and Hanna Rhoden, who had a child together. Days after the murders, Wagner sought and was granted custody of the child.
Prosecutors also said that Wagner cooperated with them by providing the locations of the weapons used. They also said they gained information from his grandmother, Rita Newcomb, who pleaded guilty in December 2019 to obstructing justice, a misdemeanor, in exchange for charges of forgery and perjury being dropped.
An investigation led by Mike DeWine, now the governor of Ohio and then the attorney general, eventually linked the killings to four members of the Wagner family, with charges being filed in November 2018.
Along with Jake Wagner, those facing charges are (with their ages at the time): Angela Wagner, 48; George “Billy” Wagner III, 47; and George Wagner IV, 27.
All four originally entered not guilty pleas. Prosecutors said they would seek death penalties.
DeWine said the four spent months planning the killings, studying the habits and routines of the Rhoden family. The Wagners knew the layouts of the homes and knew where family members slept.
After the court hearing, current Attorney General Dave Yost issued a statement that read in part, “Today’s hearing finally brings some degree of closure to the surviving family members, and I pray that they might find peace in the face of this horror.”
Governor Mike DeWine publicly thanked the Rhoden family in a press conference outside the courthouse. “It’s not easy when investigators can’t tell you anything, and they just have to trust you. So they hung in there this entire time with us.
“I’m very very grateful and I wanted to come here and tell [the Rhoden family] thank you. I wanted to tell them that justice was done. This was justice. I never lost faith in this case. I never thought that we were not going to solve it.
“It chills you to think about the calculation that goes into something like this.
“This family has been through hell. While today, I’m sure was a gratifying day it wasn’t an easy day. They have to be leaving here totally exhausted, emotionally spent. But these are strong people. These are tough people. They will continue to go forward,” the governor told reporters.