In the Pike County Court of Common Pleas on Monday, Rita Newcomb, 66, pleaded guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor charge of obstructing official business.
This is a lesser charge than the fifth-degree felony count of obstructing justice with which she was originally charged. As part of the plea agreement, Newcomb’s three counts of forgery (fifth-degree felony) and one count of perjury (third-degree felony) were dismissed.
Newcomb faced these charges in relation to the Rhoden murder cases. She had originally pleaded not guilty to all charges but on Monday changed her plea to guilty for the amended obstructing official business charge.
Newcomb’s daughter, Angela Wagner, 49, was among four members of the Wagner family who were arrested on Nov. 13, 2018, and charged with the murders of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families in Pike County on April 22, 2016. Also arrested and charged in the murders were Angela’s husband, George “Billy” Wagner III, 48, and their two sons, George Wagner IV, 28, and Edward “Jake” Wagner, 27.
“As this court knows, Ms. Newcomb was charged with three counts of forgery regarding three separate custody documents that are at issue in this case,” stated Special Prosecuting Attorney Angela Canepa during Monday’s proceedings.
Canepa indicated that there is a signature on those custody documents that appeared to be Newcomb’s signature, or at least signed in her name.
“Your honor, at this time, she has acknowledged to us that she, in fact, was not the individual who signed those documents using her name,” Canepa said.
Canepa added that this is consistent with information provided by a handwriting expert who evaluated Newcomb’s signature and concluded that she probably did not sign the documents.
According to Canepa, Newcomb indicated to prosecution that she had been asked to say that she had signed the documents by her daughter, Angela Wagner. Newcomb told the judge that she felt that it is not a good Christian thing to lie and that she could not live with it anymore.
Sentencing of Newcomb has been deferred to a later date, still to be determined.
Pike County Court of Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering ordered that Newcomb is no longer on house arrest and no longer has to wear an ankle monitor but that she does have to continue following the conditions of her bond, including reporting to pre-trial services and not having contact with any of the defendants in the case or with George Wagner III’s mother, Fredericka Wagner.
Fredericka Wagner was originally charged with obstructing justice and perjury in connection with the case, but her charges were dismissed without prejudice in June.