Woman pleads guilty in 2016 slayings of 8 members of an Ohio family

By Dean Narciso

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Angela Wagner walked calmly into the Pike County Courthouse on Friday. Flanked by her attorneys, she sat at a table, crossed her legs and sat nearly motionless for more than an hour as a judge read aloud an array of charges and details of a cold, calculated murder five years ago.

The 50-year-old — who now has admitted to helping mastermind the deaths of eight people in one of the highest-profile investigations in Ohio history — pleaded guilty Friday to a variety of 14 lesser charges and agreed to a 30-year mandatory prison sentence related to the murders of eight members of the Rhoden family.

By doing so, prosecutors in the case agreed to drop the most serious aggravated murder charges. Instead, she will be 80 years old when she is released.

A gallery of about 30 people, several of them friends and relatives of the Rhoden family, stared at Wagner, some wiping their eyes and bowing their heads.

Wagner repeatedly answered "Yes, your honor," "No, your honor" and "I plead guilty, your honor" to questions related to each charge.

She showed no emotion and avoided even a glance at the gallery.

Special prosecutor Angela Canepa said that a statement proffered by Wagner will help in the remaining cases. The statement is consistent with that her son, Edward "Jake" Wagner, already provided, she said.

"She admitted that she knew what they were doing and what had happened the next day."

Rhoden relatives gathered outside after the hearing, consoling one another. One woman glared at Wagner from her car as Wagner exited the courthouse.

"I see a woman with no sympathy, no remorse," she said, commenting on the sentence. "She's getting 30 years more than what our family gets."

By not entering the plea, Wagner could have faced more than 110 years in prison and a fine of $165,000, Pike County Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering told her.

Among the more serious charges she pleaded to Friday: complicity to commit aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, each first-degree felonies punishable by up to 11 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Deering read details including how Wagner obtained ammunition and gun silencers, forged child custody documents, broke into computer accounts of the victims, broke into their homes and moved bodies once they had been shot by either her husband or sons.

Her son Edward "Jake" Wagner previously changed his plea to guilty on April 22, five years to the day of the execution-style slayings. He admitted to killing five members of the Rhoden family in Pike County and pleaded guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder. In exchange, prosecutors have dropped the possibility of a death penalty against the 28-year-old who implicated others in his family.

By agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors in the cases, two other Wagner family members, also charged in the murders, face similar court appearances as early as next week.

In 2016, eight members of the Rhoden family were shot to death in four homes in three locations in rural Pike County. A frantic family member called with a report of the first slaying at 7:49 a.m. on April 22, 2016, and alerted authorities.

Killed were Dana Manley Rhoden, 37; her ex-husband, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; their sons, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 20; their daughter, Hanna Rhoden, 19, the mother of Jake Wagner's daughter; Frankie's fiancée, Hannah Gilley, 20; Kenneth Rhoden, 44, a brother to Chris Sr.; and Gary Rhoden, 38, a cousin to Kenneth and Chris Sr.

Jake Wagner, along with George "Billy" Wagner III; his wife, Angela Wagner; and their other grown son, George Wagner IV, were arrested in 2018. The family, described as clannish, had moved to Alaska after the killings, but had returned to this part of the country and all were from the nearby Scioto County village of South Webster.

All four Wagners were charged with eight counts of aggravated murder. Other charges included aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, unauthorized use of property, interception of communications, conspiracy and unlawful possession of a dangerous ordnance.

All were taken into custody in coordinated arrests on Nov. 13, 2018.

Investigators have said the killings were an elaborate and long-planned execution plot to get rid of anyone who might stand in the way of custody and control of Jake Wagner’s child.

All originally pleaded not guilty. Jake Wagner's plea agreement took the death penalty off the table for the rest of his family as well if they are convicted.

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