WAVERLY, Ohio — Edward "Jake" Wagner pleaded guilty Thursday to eight counts of murder in a stunning turn of events on the fifth anniversary of the grisly slayings in southern Ohio.
As part of the deal, the 28-year-old Wagner received eight consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, plus more than 100 years on 15 other charges in connection with the slayings.
According to multiple reports, after Wagner entered the plea in Pike County Common Pleas Court he said, "I am deeply sorry."
The case triggered comparisons to a modern-day Hatfield-McCoy feud in the Appalachian community. It has drawn nationwide attention and was described as the largest investigation in Ohio history.
Governor Mike DeWine was Ohio's attorney general when the case began, and noted the viciousness of the killings in the wake of Wagner's court appearance.
“This was cold, cold, cold blood," DeWine said, according to Fox19Now. "This was calculated, planned out. It just chills you to think about.”
Wagner has helped prosecutors decipher the execution-style killings of eight Rhoden family members who were shot to death in three homes across four locations in rural Pike County. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Wagner confessed to killing five of the victims himself.
Details of the custody dispute between Hannah Rhoden, 19, and Jake Wagner were outlined as the motive.
The victims murdered on April 22, 2016 included Hannah Rhoden; her father Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his wife, Dana Rhoden, 37; their sons, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Frankie’s fiance, Hannah Gilley, 20; and relatives Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and Gary Rhoden, 38.
Charges remain against Jake Wagner’s mother, Angela Wagner, his father, George “Billy” Wagner III, and his older brother, George Wagner IV. Each of those defendants has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
In exchange for the killer's pledge to testify against the other defendants, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the possibility of the death penalty for Wagner and his family, if any of the others are also convicted.
Most of the Rhoden family members were murdered as they slept. According to the evidence, Chris Sr. and Gary were the only ones awake at the time of the attack. Three young children at the scene at the time of the murders were unharmed physically.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa said the youngest Wagner provided investigators with information that led to the recovery of the weapons and vehicles used in the murders.
Parts from a failed effort to build a silencer were found on the Wagners’ property, the Associated Press reported. Shell casings found at the Wagners’ home matched those found at the murder scenes. Investigators also discovered a shoe of the same size and tread that matched a shoe print found at the scene.
A special agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation testified earlier this year at a hearing for George Wagner IV that there were three murder weapons used and one of the guns, a Walther Colt 1911 .22 pistol, was the type Jake Wagner owned at one time.
The plea deal states Jake Wagner wanted Hanna Mae Rhoden to sign forged court documents giving over custody of their daughter, now 7.
On Dec. 15, 2015, according to Fox19Now, Jake Wagner hacked into Hanna Mae Rhoden’s Facebook account and read a private message saying she would never relinquish custody of the girl and that “they’d have to kill” her before she signed the documents.
Prosecutors said that spurred Wagner into action. He admitted to a four-month plot that included using cell phone jammers and video surveillance equipment to study the habits of his victims.
Today the child at the center of the dispute lives with surviving members of the Rhoden family.
According to published reports, defense attorney Greg Meyers told the court Jake Wagner wanted to accept responsibility for his actions.
“We believe this serves his wishes,” Meyers said. “He knows he’s going to die in prison.”
Nearly two dozen law enforcement agencies from 10 different states and Canada also assisted with the probe, which stretched from Ohio to Alaska -- where the Wagner family members briefly moved after the murders.