Rita Newcomb (Photo courtesy of the Ohio Attorney General's office)
Rita Newcomb (Photo courtesy of the Ohio Attorney General's office)
Rita Newcomb — the mother of one of four individuals accused of murdering eight members of the Rhoden family in April 2016 — has accepted a plea deal on an amended charge, according to a live feed of the hearing provided by the Columbus Dispatch.

Newcomb, 66, of South Webster appeared in Pike County Common Pleas Court Monday afternoon for a hearing, where she pleaded guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor charge of obstructing official business. She is represented by attorney Franklin T. Gerlach. A jury trial had previously been scheduled to begin Nov. 18.



As previously reported, George "Billy" Wagner III and Angela Wagner and their children George Wagner IV, and Edward "Jake" Wagner of South Webster, were each charged with eight counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications. The eight counts represent each victim found dead on April 22, 2016. The Wagners are accused of killing seven members of the Rhoden family, plus the fiancée of one of the Rhoden victims, at four different Pike County homes.

Killed were: Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 37, and their three children, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 20. Frankie Rhoden's fiancée, Hannah "Hazel" Gilley, 20, was also killed, along with the elder Christopher Rhoden's brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and cousin Gary Rhoden, 38.

Most of the victims were killed as they slept. Three young children at home at the time of the murders were left physically unharmed.

Fredericka Wagner, the mother of George “Billy” Wagner, was previously charged with obstructing justice and perjury, but the charges were later dismissed. Newcomb — who is Angela Wagner’s mother — was indicted on three counts of forgery, all felonies of the fifth degree; obstructing justice, a felony of the fifth degree; and one count of perjury, a felony of the third degree.

On Monday afternoon, special prosecutor Angela Canepa of the Ohio Attorney General’s office told Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering that both parties have agreed to amend count four of Newcomb's indictment from the previous fifth-degree felony charge of obstructing justice to a second-degree misdemeanor count of obstructing official business. The four other counts in the case were dismissed Monday.

Canepa also told Judge Deering that in talking with Newcomb and a handwriting expert, they determined that Newcomb was “probably not the individual who had signed” the documents she had been charged with forging.

“That is the basis for the reduction in charges,” Canepa said.

Deering explained the new charge to Newcomb and said that she is facing a maximum jail term of 90 days and/or a maximum fine of $750. After Deering explained Newcomb’s rights and answered a few questions, Newcomb entered a guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge.

A sentencing hearing will be scheduled for Newcomb, as attorneys said they have not made any agreement on sentencing. However, according to an agreement between the defense and prosecutors, Deering agreed to remove Newcomb’s house arrest and ankle monitor requirements. Newcomb remains under pretrial supervision and was ordered again to have no contact with any other defendants in this case.

(Editor’s note: Thank you to the Columbus Dispatch for providing live video coverage of this case. For more on this story, visit https://www.dispatch.com/news/20191202/grandmother-accused-in-rhoden-family-homicide-coverup-pleads-guilty-to-lesser-charge.)