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MailTribune.com
  • 'You couldn't ask for a better person'

    Jessica Bethany's co-workers say she worked hard, had a keen sense of humor; an autopsy confirms she died of stab wounds
  • CENTRAL POINT — An autopsy has determined 32-year-old Medford bartender Jessica Bethany died Sunday of multiple stab wounds that police believe were inflicted by her former boyfriend Jeffrey Wayne Wheeler.
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  • CENTRAL POINT — An autopsy has determined 32-year-old Medford bartender Jessica Bethany died Sunday of multiple stab wounds that police believe were inflicted by her former boyfriend Jeffrey Wayne Wheeler.
    Wheeler, 36, of Central Point, was arraigned on a murder charge Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court and faces a possible sentence of life in prison. Under Oregon sentencing guidelines, Wheeler would spend at least 25 years in prison if convicted.
    The Jackson County Medical Examiner's Office conducted the autopsy Tuesday while police continued their investigation at Bethany's apartment at 745 E. Pine St., Central Point. An Oregon State Police mobile crime lab was parked outside.
    "There's still a lot of footwork to do in this case," Central Point police Capt. Chuck Newell said. "We are out collecting follow-up leads. There's a lot to cover."
    Police declined to give any more details from the autopsy or about events preceding Bethany's death, citing the ongoing investigation.
    Police found Bethany's body inside her apartment near Abby's Pizza after a male caller reported "a possible deceased adult" at about 7:36 a.m. Sunday. Wheeler was identified as the primary suspect and was later detained by police in Medford.
    Bethany was well-known throughout Medford, having worked as a bartender at Howiee's on Front downtown for several years.
    Co-worker Veronica Reid said it feels like she has lost a sister.
    "We are very close here at Howiee's," said Reid, who has worked with Bethany for five years. "Jessica was a beautiful light in this place. People would come in just to see her."
    Howiee's Manager Lance Goodrich said Bethany was an "excellent" worker who kept the place lively with her sharp sense of humor.
    "You couldn't ask for a better person," Goodrich said. "She had thick skin and worked well with people."
    All of Bethany's friends and co-workers who gathered Tuesday at Howiee's said they believed her relationship with Wheeler was toxic.
    Goodrich said he barred Wheeler from the restaurant after Wheeler repeatedly harassed Bethany while she was working.
    "He was constantly calling her and caused trouble in the bar," Goodrich said.
    Wheeler has a lengthy criminal record that includes identity theft and drug charges.
    Wheeler pressed domestic abuse charges against Bethany in 2010, but those charges were soon dropped for lack of evidence by the Jackson County District Attorney's Office, court records show.
    Wheeler and Bethany have a 1-year-old daughter. The pair have children from previous relationships, according to people acquainted with them.
    Bethany's children are staying with relatives, police said.
    Memorials to Bethany of flowers and chalk messages have bloomed in front of Howiee's and her apartment.
    Goodrich said a fund to help Bethany's family with the care of the children has been established at Howiee's. Anyone wanting to contribute can drop money off at the bar, he said.
    A fundraiser at Howiee's is planned for Sept. 25, which would have been Bethany's 33rd birthday.
    "I think a lot of people are going to be here for that," Goodrich said.
    Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.
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