Edward 'Jake' Wagner, 28, Pleads Guilty to Killing a Family of 8 in Rural Ohio in 2016
The gruesome murders had reportedly been a result of a custody dispute over a 2-year-old daughter belonging to Wagner and one of the victims.
A 28-year-old man from rural Ohio pleaded guilty to eight counts of murder in the gruesome slayings of the mother of his child, along with seven other members of her family in 2016. Edward “Jake” Wagner, who had previously pleaded not guilty, reached a plea deal with Pike County prosecutors, who agreed not to pursue the death penalty in exchange for his guilty plea, the New York Times reported.
“I am guilty,” he said in court Thursday, in response to the murder charges as well as charges of conspiracy, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, among other counts. “I am deeply and very sorry.”
Wagner entered his guilty plea on the five-year anniversary of the killings that had rocked their rural community near Piketon at the time.
Wagner had first met his victim, Hannah Rhoden, years ago when she was 13 years old. She became pregnant with his child at 15 years old, special prosecutor Angela Canepa said, according to CBS News. Hannah had begun seeing someone new at 19 years old, and became pregnant with her new partner’s child, the New York Times reported.
Their daughter, Sophia, was 2 years old at the time, and the dispute over Sophia’s custody is what led to the gruesome murders, Canepa said in court.
“Jake grew to be upset with Hanna over the fact that Hanna was exposing Sophia to people that he believed that she should not be around,” Canepa said.
Hannah’s baby with her new partner was just four days old at the time of her death, WHIO reported.
Hannah’s parents, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, and Dana Manley Rhoden, 37, were also killed, along with her siblings, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, his fiancée, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20, Christopher Rhoden’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and his cousin Gary Rhoden, 38.
The victims had all been shot in the head, and their bodies were discovered in mobile homes and a camper in a rural part of Pike County, the New York Times reported. It was originally believed the slayings were drug-related when at least one of the homes in which the victims were found housed a marijuana grow-op, CBS News reported.
“Mr. Wagner’s plea provides at least some semblance of immediate justice, and a glimmer of hope that perhaps all responsible parties will ultimately be held accountable for their respective actions in the near future,” lawyer for the Rhoden family Brian K. Duncan said, according to the New York Times.
Three other members of Wagner’s family had been arrested in connection with the murders, including his parents, George "Billy" Wagner III, 47, and Angela Wagner, 48, and his brother, George Wagner, 27. They have all pleaded not guilty and their cases will continue.
A sentencing hearing for Wagner will occur in the coming days, but his public defender said “he knows he’s going to die in prison without any judicial release,” he said in court Thursday.
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