‘I am guilty, your honor’: Jake Wagner takes plea deal to avoid death penalty

Crime

PIKE COUNTY, Ohio (WDTN) — One of the people charged in the Pike County’s 2016 Rhoden family massacre has plead guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder.

It’s been five years to the day since the murders. Now, Edward “Jake” Wagner has plead guilty to killing five of the eight members of the Rhoden family. As part of a plea deal, he agreed to testify against his own family to avoid the death penalty.

“I am guilty, your honor,” said Wagner.

The words surviving members of the Rhoden family have been waiting five years to hear.

“At this point it is noted your honor, the defendant has confessed and apologized for committing these offenses with his family members and admits to personally causing the death of five of the eight victims,” said the prosecuting attorney.

Wagner pled guilty on several charges including eight counts of aggravated murder in the 2016 Rhoden family massacre. As part of Wagner’s plea deal, he will avoid the death penalty, serve eight consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole and testify against his family members.

The murders happened April 22, 2016 at the Rhoden’s home in Pike County. Authorities found eight people shot in their homes. The investigation went on for nearly two years before authorities arrested Jake Wagner along with several members of his family, George “Billy” Wagner, Angela Wagner and George Wagner IV.

An investigation led by then Attorney General Mike DeWine, said the suspects spent months planning the killings, studying the habits and routines of the Rhoden family and even knowing the layout of their homes and where certain family members slept.

“This family has been through hell, while today I’m sure was a gratifying day, it wasn’t an easy day,” said DeWine.

Victims of the Rhoden family were between 16 to 44 years old. One of the victims, Hanna Rhoden, was the ex-girlfriend of Jake and they shared custody of their daughter. Authorities have said a custody dispute between the families may have been a motive for the killings.

Prosecutors in today’s hearing said screenshots of hacked conversations on social media showed a growing dispute over custody of Jake and Hanna’s daughter. Two months later, investigators saw evidence of the Wagners beginning to prepare for these homicides, four months after Hanna Rhoden sent those messages, she and seven members of her family were dead.

Additionally, the court found evidence of documents formed on April 3, 2016, less than three weeks prior to the murders but framed as if they were dated a year prior. Other evidence investigators found was that Jake, George and Angelica Wagner executed custody documents that Jake and Hanna’s daughter would go to Jake if Hanna were to die.

Wagner also agreed to plead guilty to gun specifications, conspiracy, burglary, possession of dangerous ordnance and tampering with evidence. Meanwhile George, Angela and George Wagner IV all still face several charges including aggravated murder.

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