‘Not Guilty’ plea, gag order in first Wagner court appearance for execution-style murders

Edward 'Jake' Wagner pleads not guilty

WAVERLY, OH (FOX19) - The first suspect to appear in court for his alleged role in the Pike County massacre pleaded not guilty Tuesday.

Edward ‘Jake’ Wagner, 26, also waived his right to a speedy trial through July 31, 2019.

Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering ordered Wagner held without bond at the Ross County Jail until his next court appearance.

Wagner is a key part of the case, according to prosecutors. He fathered a little girl, Sophia, with Hanna Rhoden, 19, one of the victims fatally shot April 22, 2016.

A custody dispute over the child, who is now 5, is a factor in the massacre that wiped out eight members of the Rhoden family and led to the arrests of six members of Wagner’s family earlier this month, according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

“We won’t be able to say much about motive, but you’ll see from the indictments, custody of this child was a factor,” DeWine said in a Nov. 13 news conference after the arrests.

Pike County Massacre

Wagner showed no emotion Tuesday as the judge took an hour to read all 23 charges against him in Pike County Municipal Court.

In addition to the aggravated murder charges, Wagner’s charges include conspiring with his family to kill the Rhoden family since Jan. 1, 2016, according to his indictment.

He also is accused of buying various items including a net that attaches to a gun to collect spent shell casings, ammunition, and items to build a silencer and then helping to get rid of evidence such as the victims’ phones and surveillance system.

Wagner’s older brother, father and mother also face charges for the brutal slayings in the Rhoden family’s homes while most of them slept.

Then, his court-appointed attorneys, Wagner William Moody and Gregory Myers, and Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk requested and received a gag order in the case.

It bars everyone involved in the case, including law enforcement and attorneys, from speaking to the media.

Junk has said he wants to keep the trials in Pike County.

The judge stated that each charge includes specifications that could add extra penalties if a grand jury finds Wagner guilty.

If Wagner is found guilty of any of the charges but not the included specifications, he could face:

  • Life in prison without the possibility of parole
  • Life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years
  • Life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years
  • Life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years

The judge also laid out the potential sentences if Wagner is found guilty of any one charge and any one of the specifications:

  • Death
  • Life in prison without the possibility of parole
  • Life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years
  • Life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years

Wagner will next appear in court for first pretrial and second pretrial hearings.

Those are scheduled for Dec. 20 at 11 a.m. and Jan. 24, also at 11 a.m.

Timeline: Rhoden family murder investigation

Tuesday morning was the first day in a two week-long series of court appearances for each of the Wagner family members.

George Wagner IV, 27, is expected to face the judge at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Angela Wagner, 48, the mother of Jake and George IV, is due in the same court at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

The final member of the Wagner family charged with aggravated murder in the execution-style slayings of the eight Rhoden family members will be in court the following week.

George “Billy” Wagner III, 47, will appear at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 4.

Photo: The Wagner family from left to right: George "Billy Wagner III, Angela Wagner, George Wagner IV and Edward "Jake" Wagner. (Photo: FOX19 NOW)
Photo: The Wagner family from left to right: George "Billy Wagner III, Angela Wagner, George Wagner IV and Edward "Jake" Wagner. (Photo: FOX19 NOW)

They all face aggravated murder charges and other counts that carry the possibility of a death sentence if they are convicted.

Their family attorney has said they will be vindicated.

Arraignments scheduled for 4 charged in Pike County massacre

All four members of the Wagner family must be separately arraigned and likely will be separately tried because they face the possibility of the death penalty.

Authorities announced the arrests last week, more than two years after eight members the Pike County family were massacred execution-style in their homes.

The slayings are considered the state’s most complex homicide investigation to date, resulting in more than 1,000 tips, hundreds of people interviewed and dozens of search warrants, officials said Tuesday.

The victims were family patriarch Christopher Rhoden, 40; his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his cousin, Gary Rhoden; his former wife, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, and their children: Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Hanna Mae Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah Gilley.

All were all shot in the head -- most several times -- according to autopsy records released in September.

Eight members of the Rhoden family were killed in Pike Co. in April 206.
Eight members of the Rhoden family were killed in Pike Co. in April 206.

When asked about her whereabouts the day of the arrests, DeWine would only say children services was now involved.

Jake Wagner also is charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for having sexual contact with Hanna Rhoden when she was 15 and he was 20 years old.

DeWine has said an “obsession” with custody and control of the children played a role in the murders.

While searching the crime scenes, officials have said they found marijuana “grow operations,” including one with more than 100 marijuana plants.

DeWine and Pike County Sheriff Charlie Reader won’t say if the drugs contributed to the motive, but DeWine did say drugs were an “undercurrent” in the case, along with money.

Also charged in the case is Billy Wagner’s mother Fredericka Wagner and Angela’s mother Rita Newcomb.

They are accused of covering up the crime by forging custody papers related to Jake and Hanna’s daughter,

The two are free after posting bond and are on house arrest.

A special prosecutor said during their bond hearing that a confidential informant told investigators the four Wagners charged with killing the Rhodens met at Fredericka Wagner’s home and talked about what they would do if anyone was arrested.

The discussion included escaping and getting revenge against investigators, including the Pike County sheriff, DeWine and a BCI agent.

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