Jake Wagner pleads guilty in Pike County massacre

Updated: Apr. 22, 2021 at 10:34 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - The youngest suspect in a family of four charged in the execution-style killings of a southwestern Ohio family changed his plea from not guilty to guilty for his role in the massacre.

Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of the complex homicide investigation and Edward “Jake” Wagner is now pleading guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder and other charges.

He also pleaded guilty to gun specifications, conspiracy, burglary, possession of dangerous ordnance and tampering with evidence.

In all, Jake pleaded guilty to 23 charges.

In exchange, prosecutors have dropped the possibility of a death penalty and Wagner has agreed to a sentence of eight life sentences without parole.

“We are fully satisfied,” Wagner’s defense said. “He knows he’s going to die in prison without any judicial relief.”

His three relatives, father, George “Billy” Wagner III; his mother, Angela Wagner and his older brother, George Wagner IV, are also charged with aggravated murder.

The State is also agreeing to dismiss the death penalty specifications against the other family members and Jake will testify against his mom, dad and brother at their trials.

Special Prosecutor Angie Canepa said Jake confessed and apologized for the crimes. In an interview, he led investigators to the weapons and vehicles used in the killings.

Jake was the ex-boyfriend of one of the victims, Hanna Mae Rhoden, 19.

Authorities have said the motive of the slayings stemmed in part over a custody dispute over a young daughter Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden had together.

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

Community reacts to guilty plea in Pike County massacre

Attorney General Dave Yost released the following statement following the plea agreement:

“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.”

FULL SECTION | Pike County Massacre

All of the other Wagners have pleaded not guilty and have been held at separate Ohio jails since their arrests more than two years ago, in November 2018.

Eight members of the Rhoden family were found dead the morning of April 22, 2016, in their Pike County homes in southern Ohio.

The victims are 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.

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