An Ohio grandmother accused of helping to cover up the execution-style murders of eight members of the same family in the small rural community of Piketon, Ohio has agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge.
Rita Newcomb, 66, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of official business Monday as part of a plea deal with prosecutors, local station WXIX-TV reports.
Newcomb had been accused of forging custody documents related to the case and later lying about it to a grand jury and investigators; however, as part of the deal, the forgery and perjury charges filed against her were dropped.
In court Monday, Newcomb—who had originally pleaded not guilty to the charges against her—told the judge she had a change of heart.
“It’s not a good, Christian thing to lie, so I didn’t want to do that anymore,” she said.
The forged custody documents could play an important role in establishing a motive for the murders.
Shortly after Newcomb’s daughter Angela Wagner, Wagner’s husband George “Billy” Wagner and their two sons George Wagner IV and Edward “Jake” Wagner were arrested for the brutal slayings of eight members of the Rhoden family, former Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said it child custody issues likely played a role in the slayings.
“There certainly was an obsession with custody, obsession with control of children,” DeWine said after the 2018 arrests, according to The Associated Press.
Jake Wagner and 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden, one of the victims, had shared a child, Sophia.
In the dead of the night on April 22, 2016, Hanna Rhoden was shot to death in a series of systematic attacks against multiple members of the Rhoden family carried out in four separate trailer homes. Also killed that night where Hanna’s parents Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, and Dana Manley Rhoden, 38; her brothers Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, and Chris Rhoden Jr., 16; Frankie Rhoden’s fiancée Hannah Gilley, 20; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s older brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and cousin Gary Rhoden, 38.
Sophia, who is now 6, had been staying with the Wagners the night of the slayings and wasn't harmed. Three children—including Hanna Rhoden’s newborn baby—were in the homes but were left alive.
Those who knew Hanna had described her as a devoted mother.
“She was a great mom. She put her kids before anyone else,” Brittany Petit, a close friend of Chris Rhoden Jr., said in the Oxygen special “The Piketon Family Murders”, which aired this past spring.
Newcomb had been accused of forging custody documents for both Jake Wagner and his brother George Wagner IV, but in court Monday, prosecutor Angela Canepa said a handwriting expert had determined that Newcomb had not signed the documents herself, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
Newcomb admitted to lying to a grand jury and investigators about the documents because her daughter Angela had asked her to, Canepa said.
Newcomb is facing a sentence of up to 90 days in jail. No sentencing date has been set.
The four members of the Wagner family who have been charged with the Rhoden murders have all pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
Fredericka Wagner—Jake Wagner’s other grandmother—had also initially been charged with obstructing justice and perjury. Investigators had accused the 76-year-old matriarch of the family of lying to a grand jury about bullet proof vests she'd purchased online. However, the charges against her were dropped this summer, with the prosecution reserving the right to re-file at a later date.
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