WAVERLY, Ohio (NewsNation Now) — A man pleaded guilty in the murders of his child’s mother and seven other members of her family on Thursday, the fifth anniversary of when the shootings were discovered in southern Ohio.
Edward “Jake” Wagner pleaded guilty to 23 counts in Pike County court in a deal with prosecutors that spares him from a potential death penalty. He agreed to cooperate in the cases against his parents and brother, who also are charged in the Rhoden family slayings of seven adults and a teenage boy.
“I am guilty, your honor,” Wagner calmly told the judge again and again, as each count was read. The charges included eight counts of aggravated murder, as well as charges of conspiracy, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence and other charges.
He said he was deeply sorry, NewsNation affiliate WCMH-TV reported.
After pleading guilty, a prosecutor read a statement of facts that contained some previously unreleased information. That included that shell casings found at the Wagner home matched those found at the crime scene, that there is video evidence of the Wagners purchasing shoes months ahead of the shootings with treads that matched those found at the crime scene, and that the burned remains of a silencer used in the killings were located.
Wagner faces a maximum of eight consecutive life sentences plus additional years in prison that could number in the hundreds.
The victims, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Dana Rhoden, 37; Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Hanna Rhoden, 19; Hannah Gilley, 20; Gary Rhoden, 38; and Kenneth Rhoden, 44, were killed in four homes on the night of April 21 and the morning of 22, 2016.
Three young children at the scenes, including Jake Wagner’s child, were unharmed.
An investigation went on for more than two years before arrests were made. It was led by Mike DeWine, now the governor of Ohio and then the attorney general, who described the killings as ‘pre-planned execution’ and a ‘sophisticated operation.’
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DeWine linked the killings to four members of the Wagner family, with charges filed in November 2018.
Along with Jake Wagner, those charged in connection with the Rhoden family murders were (and their ages at the time): George “Billy” Wagner III, 47; Angela Wagner, 48; and George Wagner IV, 27.
All four entered not guilty pleas. Prosecutors said they will seek death penalties.
DeWine said the four spent months planning the killings, studying the habits and routines of the Rhoden family. The Wagners knew the layouts of the homes and knew where family members slept.
The motive may have been connected to a previous relationship between Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden, who had a child together. They were together from 2013 to 2015, and the week after the murders, Wagner sought and was granted custody of the child.
The child was placed in the care of child protective services after the arrests.
Tony Rhoden Sr., a relative of the Rhoden family, has sued the suspects, saying he wanted to be sure none of them benefited financially from the slayings.
NewsNation affiliate WCMH-TV and The Associated Press contributed to this report.