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Ohio Gov. DeWine reacts to suspect in Rhoden murders changing plea to guilty

Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 11:00 PM EDT
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WAVERLY, Ohio (WSAZ) - Surviving members of the Rhoden family, who’ve been seeking justice for five years after the execution-style murders of eight of their loved ones, got one step closure to closure Thursday.

In Common Pleas Court in Pike County, Ohio, Edward “Jake” Wagner agreed to change his plea from not guilty to guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder.

Suspect in Rhoden murders changes plea from not guilty to guilty

The development came on the fifth anniversary of the discovery of the bodies.

Wagner agreed to cooperate against his parents and brother, who were also charged in the infamous case. Prosecutors say, as part of the deal, they will not seek the death penalty.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who was the state’s attorney general at the time of the killings, came to the courthouse in Waverly to be with the family after learning of the monumental plea deal.

“This is a day where justice was done,” DeWine said. “I wanted to thank the family for hanging with us. It’s not easy when investigators can’t tell you anything.”

One year after the murders, DeWine asked family member Geneva Rhoden to make a video pleading for anyone with information to come forward.

“She came up to me, and we hugged,” DeWine said. “You lose a family member, one member -- how about eight? I don’t know how you’d survive it. I don’t know how you go on, but she goes on. She’s tough and strong.”

Investigators say the motive in the case appears to be connected to a custody dispute over Jake Wagner’s and Hanna Rhoden’s child. Hanna was among those murdered.

On April 22, 2016, eight members of the Rhoden family were found shot and killed at three mobile homes and a camper near Piketon.

It took authorities more than two years to make arrests.

“This was cold, cold, cold blood,” DeWine said. “This was calculated, planned out. It just chills you to think about the calculation that goes into something like this.”

After leaving the courthouse with the family a little before 6 p.m. Thursday, DeWine recalled the challenging start of the investigation when wild rumors of a drug cartel were circulating, and authorities had little evidence to go on.

“I never lost faith in this case,” he said. “I never thought we were not going to solve it.”

Family members who were there at the courthouse said they couldn’t comment because they remain under a gag order.

Wagner’s lawyers acknowledged in court that his plea means he’ll die in prison, and they said he understands that.

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