Attorneys for George Wagner IV said they plan to “take a step back” to examine the guilty plea entered by one of Wagner’s alleged co-conspirators — his little brother — but did not change George’s not-guilty plea during a Wednesday court appearance.
George’s younger brother Edward Wagner, better known by his middle name Jake, pleaded guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder on April 22 and implicated his family members in the process. His plea removes the death penalty from prosecutors’ arsenal but sets him — and possibly them — up to serve multiple life sentences.
Prosecutors believe the Wagner brothers and their parents, George and Angela Wagner, conspired to kill eight members of another family in Pike County on April 21, 2016.
The victims — the Rhodens — were executed overnight, many of them while they slept, at four different crime scenes across the county.
Jake Wagner had a young daughter with 19-year-old victim Hanna May Rhoden. The pair were no longer together, Rhoden having found another boyfriend and conceived another child. Prosecutors said Wagner had been attempting to pressure Rhoden into a custody arrangement for their daughter that she was unwilling to accept.
At the same time, Wagner and his family were spying on Rhoden, prosecutors said. They hacked into Facebook accounts connected to her and her relatives, which is how they saw a message she sent to a friend four months before the attack: "(I'll) never sign papers ever. They will have to kill me first.”
The preparations described by prosecutors were fastidious: The family bought special boots, built homemade silencers for their weapons and purchased a cell phone jammer for the night of the attack. They also drew up forged custody documents saying Rhoden had agreed Jake Wagner would receive custody of their daughter if she died.
According to prosecutors and to Wagner’s guilty plea, the family struck overnight on April 21, 2016, and killed Hanna, her brothers, her parents, her sister-in-law, her uncle and one of her father’s cousins.
Jake Wagner’s guilty plea included a wide range of charges, including aggravated murder, conspiracy, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, forgery, obstruction of justice, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and having an unlawful sexual relationship with a minor. Hanna May Rhoden was 13 when they began dating and 15 when their daughter was born; Wagner was an adult.
Jake Wagner could receive up to eight consecutive life sentences for the Rhodens’ murders and 160 years imprisonment for the other charges.