Edward Wagner Pleads Guilty in Rhoden Family Murders
In the Pike County Common Pleas Court Thursday, Edward “Jake” Wagner changed his plea to guilty for all 23 of the charges he faces. He stood flanked by his attorneys in a black button down shirt, hands clasped in front of him.
At times he appeared to smile as he repeatedly responded, “I am guilty your honor,” while the judge read through each individual count and specification.
Judge Randy Deering presided, and he explained many of those counts carry mandatory minimum sentences. Early on he added them together to explain the full scope of the sentence Wagner is facing.
“That’s 160 years in prison terms that are not included in the consecutive terms of life imprisonment without parole,” Deering said.
One of Wagner’s attorneys, Public defender William Mooney, assured the judge later that Wagner understands the gravity of a guilty plea.
“We are fully satisfied that he has gone eyes wide open into this agreement. He knows he is going to die in prison without any judicial relief,” Mooney said.
Wagner will be sentenced at a later date, and he could face as many as eight consecutive life sentences, one for each of the Rhoden family members murdered in 2016.
The decision to change his plea is part of a deal in which prosecutors agreed not to pursue the death penalty. Prosecutor Angela Canepa told the judge as part of that deal, Wagner provided prosecutors with evidence to secure the cases, including where to find the murder weapons and vehicles used in committing the murders.
“Based on the totality of the information now known by the state, including the forthright statements of the defendant, we have overwhelming evidence that the defendant and the three co-defendant members of his family are in fact responsible for planning and carrying out the homicides,” she said.
Investigators say the murders stemmed from a custody dispute between Wagner and Hana May Rhoden, one of the victims who had a child with Wagner. From there, Wagner and three of his family members allegedly conspired to forge documents transferring custody of the child and then kill members of the Rhoden family.
The four Wagner family members were arrested in 2018.
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