Pike County murders: Grandmother accused in cover-up pleads guilty to lesser charge

Rita Newcomb appeared in a Pike County courthouse Monday and changed her plea in connection with the deaths of eight family members.

WAVERLY, Pike County — A grandmother accused of helping family members cover up the execution-style killings of eight members of the Rhoden family has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

Rita Jo Newcomb, 66, agreed Monday to plead guilty to obstruction of official business for her alleged role to cover up the April 22, 2016, homicides. A judge ordered her released from house arrest.

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She also charged with perjury, obstructing justice and forgery, but prosecutors agreed to drop those charges in exchange for her guilty plea.

She is the mother of Angela Wagner, who is married to George “Billy” Wagner and is the mother of Edward “Jake” Wagner and George Wagner IV. They were charged just more than a year ago in the killings and face the death penalty if convicted. All four have pleaded not guilty.

“It’s not a good Christian thing to lie, and I couldn’t do it anymore,” Newcomb told a Pike County judge before pleading guilty.

Gov. Mike DeWine, then the state’s attorney general, said a custody battle involving the then-2-year-old daughter of Jake Wagner and Hanna Roden, one of the victims, was an apparent motive in the killings.

Newcomb was accused of forging custody papers. However, during the hearing on Monday, prosecutors said a handwriting expert who analyzed the documents said Newcomb did not sign it.

Newcomb’s sentencing date has not been set. Obstruction of official business is a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of 90 days in jail.

A second grandmother, Fredericka Wagner, also faced perjury and obstruction of justice but all charges later were dropped against her.

The murder victims are Hanna Rhoden, 19; her father Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his wife, Dana Rhoden, 37; their sons, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Frankie’s fiancée, Hannah Gilley, 20; and relatives Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and Gary Rhoden, 38.