Jake Wagner pleads guilty in fatal shootings of Rhoden family


By MARK GILLISPIE and KANTELE FRANKO - Associated Press



FILE - This Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018 file photo shows Edward "Jake" Wagner being escorted by police into the holding area in the Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio. Wagner planned to plead guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder. In exchange, prosecutors have dropped the possibility of a death sentence, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Brooke LaValley/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)

FILE - This Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018 file photo shows Edward "Jake" Wagner being escorted by police into the holding area in the Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio. Wagner planned to plead guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder. In exchange, prosecutors have dropped the possibility of a death sentence, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Brooke LaValley/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)


FILE - This Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018 file photo shows Edward "Jake" Wagner entering the courtroom for arraignment in front of Judge Randy Deering at the Pike County Courthouse in Waverly, Ohio. Wagner planned to plead guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder. In exchange, prosecutors have dropped the possibility of a death sentence, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Robert McGraw/The Chillicothe Gazette via AP, Pool, File)


WAVERLY — Edward “Jake” Wagner pleaded guilty in the murders of his child’s mother and seven other members of her family on Thursday, the fifth anniversary of when the shootings were discovered in Pike County.

Wagner pleaded guilty to 23 counts in Pike County court in a deal with prosecutors that spares him from a potential death penalty. He agreed to cooperate in the cases against his parents and brother, who also are charged in the Rhoden family slayings of seven adults and a teenage boy.

“I am guilty, your honor,” Wagner calmly told the judge again and again, as each count was read. The charges included eight counts of aggravated murder, as well as charges of conspiracy, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence and other charges.

He said he was deeply sorry.

The killings in April 2016 — at three trailers and a camper near Piketon — terrified residents in the surrounding rural community and prompted one of the most extensive criminal investigations in state history. It took authorities more than two years to announce the arrests.

George Billy Wagner III, Angela Wagner and their son George Billy Wagner IV have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors alleged the Wagner family planned the killings for months, motivated by a custody dispute. Most of the victims were repeatedly shot in the head, and some showed signs of bruising, as if they had been beaten. Three young children at the scenes, including Jake Wagner’s child, were unharmed.

The victims were 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr.; his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; their three children, 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 16-year-old Christopher Jr., and 19-year-old Hanna, the mother of Jake Wagner’s child; Clarence Rhoden’s fiancée, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; and a cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden.

One of their relatives, Tony Rhoden Sr., has sued the suspects, saying he wanted to be sure none of them benefitted financially from the slayings.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost issued a statement following the plea agreement filed in the case of Edward Jake Wagner.

“I am incredibly proud of our team at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation whose dedication, perseverance and expertise lead to today’s plea.

The scope of this crime and subsequent investigation surpasses any other in Ohio’s history. The dedicated men and women of BCI rose to the challenge in the pursuit of justice for the victims — and never gave up.

BCI’s work spans countless long nights, weeks and years and will continue until all responsible for these crimes are held accountable.

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.”

FILE – This Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018 file photo shows Edward "Jake" Wagner being escorted by police into the holding area in the Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio. Wagner planned to plead guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder. In exchange, prosecutors have dropped the possibility of a death sentence, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Brooke LaValley/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2021/04/web1_126561027-730c004659db4df1bfce77a45f3bef4c-1.jpgFILE – This Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018 file photo shows Edward "Jake" Wagner being escorted by police into the holding area in the Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio. Wagner planned to plead guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder. In exchange, prosecutors have dropped the possibility of a death sentence, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Brooke LaValley/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)

FILE – This Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018 file photo shows Edward "Jake" Wagner entering the courtroom for arraignment in front of Judge Randy Deering at the Pike County Courthouse in Waverly, Ohio. Wagner planned to plead guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder. In exchange, prosecutors have dropped the possibility of a death sentence, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Robert McGraw/The Chillicothe Gazette via AP, Pool, File)
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2021/04/web1_126561027-defd25b9d51a43e09ff97fb1a5abd465-1.jpgFILE – This Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018 file photo shows Edward "Jake" Wagner entering the courtroom for arraignment in front of Judge Randy Deering at the Pike County Courthouse in Waverly, Ohio. Wagner planned to plead guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder. In exchange, prosecutors have dropped the possibility of a death sentence, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Robert McGraw/The Chillicothe Gazette via AP, Pool, File)

By MARK GILLISPIE and KANTELE FRANKO

Associated Press