‘Nobody expected this:’ Why a legal expert is shocked by Jake Wagner’s plea deal

Jake Wagner will testify against three family members in the case, something FOX19′s legal expert says is unprecedented.
Legal analyst breaks down what guilty plea means in Rhoden case
Updated: Apr. 22, 2021 at 11:18 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A legal expert says he’s “shocked” by the plea deal accepted on Thursday in the Wagner family prosecutions.

Four members of the Wagner family are charged with murder in the execution-style killings of eight members of the Rhoden family in Pike County in 2016.

Edwards “Jake” Wagner accepted the plea deal. In exchange for removal of the death penalty in all four cases, Jake confessed, pleaded guilty to 23 charges and led investigators to the weapons and vehicles used.

FOX19 NOW legal analyst Mike Allen has decades of experience as a practicing attorney and a judge.

“Completely shocked,” he said of the plea deal. “Nobody expected this.”

Jake will serve eight life sentences without parole as part of the plea deal. He will also testify against the other three of his family members accused in the murders, something Allen says he’s never heard of in this sort of case.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a family member going against other family members,” Allen said. “That’s what kind of surprised me.”

FULL SECTION | Pike County Massacre

Allen says the plea deal is “devastating” for the other defense attorneys, requiring them to shift gears.

“The defense attorneys now are really reevaluating their strategies, because it really strengthens the state’s case,” Allen explained.

Asked how this kind of plea deal comes about — who initiates it — Allen says it depends on the situation.

“They’ll lay hints like, ‘Hey my guy might be able to do something for you guys,’ and then they have conversations about it, and it builds,” Allen explained. “So there’s not one side that starts or initiates it. It could be either one.”

Allen says Jake will most likely be segregated from his family members in prison after their trials.

The family members are already being held in separate jails.

“That was a smart decision,” Allens said, “because without all of them talking together, they’re probably thinking about a lot of things. So they will absolutely segregate him.”

Allen says it’s possible other Wagner family members could get a similar deal, especially after seeing Jake’s plea. He says it comes down to the willingness of the prosecutor to do more deals.

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