‘It’s not a good, Christian thing to lie’ Pike County grandmother enters plea deal

Updated: Dec. 2, 2019 at 3:18 PM EST
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WAVERLY, Ohio (FOX19) - The Pike County grandmother accused of helping to cover up the execution-style killings of eight people in rural southern Ohio entered a plea deal Monday.

READ MORE | Pike County Massacre

Rita Newcomb, 66, withdrew her plea of not guilty in Pike County Common Pleas Court and entered a plea of guilty to an obstruction official business charge, a misdemeanor.

The remaining charges against her of perjury and forgery are being dismissed, Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa said in court.

When Judge Randy Deering asked Newcomb if she was coerced into pleading guilty, she responded: “It’s not a good, Christian thing to lie, so I didn’t want to do that anymore.”

She was accused of forging custody documents related to the case and then lying about it to a grand jury and to investigators.

Canepa said in court a handwriting expert determined Newcomb did not sign the custody documents herself. Canepa also said Newcomb admitted to falsely testifying before the grand jury and investigators because her daughter, Angela Wagner, told her to.

Wagner is among those charged in the killings of eight members of the Rhoden family along with her with husband, George “Billy” Wagner III and the couple’s sons, Edward “Jake” Wagner and George Wagner IV, is charged with aggravated murder in the 2016 slayings.

All have pleaded not guilty and are being held at separate jails.

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The victims are 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 shot in the head April 22, 2016, most several times, according to autopsy records.

Gov. Mike DeWine said last year the custody of the couple’s daughter, Sophia, who is now 6, was a factor in the massacre.

In addition to Newcomb, George “Billy" Wagner’s mother, Fredericka Wagner, 76, also was accused of perjury and obstruction of justice in the massacre.

The judge has dismissed the case, and Fredericka Wagner has maintained her innocence.

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However, investigators returned to Fredericka Wagner’s Flying W Farms last month and spent four days searching her 2,000-acre property, including at least one pond.

According to state investigators, the search warrant involves the Rhoden family murder case. Beyond that, authorities have been mum and not said what, if anything, they found.

Meanwhile, Newcomb now faces just 90 days in jail.

A pre-sentencing investigation, however, was not ordered Monday. The judge also did not set a sentencing date.

No explanation was provided, and there is a gag order in the case barring all parties from discussing it, but he did say in court prosecutors could make a sentencing recommendation based on Newcomb’s level of cooperation.

The judge told Newcomb she must still comply with the conditions of her bond. He also reminded her she cannot have contact with any relatives charged in the case.

He released her from house arrest and ordered the removal of her electronic ankle monitor.

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