History of violence for victim, suspect

Recent uptick in deadly domestic violence cases concerns local advocates

Friends of murdered Central Point mother Jessica Bethany, combined with statements from her alleged killer, paint a deadly picture of domestic violence.

Bethany's ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Wheeler, 36, remains in the Jackson County Jail, charged with her murder. Family and friends of the 32-year-old victim still are trying to absorb their loss.

The family

of Jessica Bethany and the Jackson County Council Against Domestic and Sexual Violence are holding a community vigil in remembrance of Jessica Bethany at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, in Robert Pfaff Park, 635 Manzanita St., Central Point.

Robin Meslow, 31, last spoke to her best friend at 3 p.m. Saturday, she said.

"She was going on a date," Meslow said, adding that Bethany was excited about this new man "because he was a complete gentleman."

Shortly after 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, police discovered Bethany's bloody body in her Central Point apartment after responding to a 9-1-1 tip of a "possibly deceased female." Wheeler was arrested in Medford within hours, and an autopsy determined Bethany had died of multiple stab wounds.

"What kind of a monster would do such a thing to such a wonderful woman?" Meslow asked. "She was trying to keep him away. He was always trying to get her alone so she would want to get back with him."

None of Bethany's friends liked or trusted Wheeler, she said. And everyone was fearful for Bethany's safety, she added.

"We would have her call us, and we'd stay on the phone with her until she'd walked to her door, locked it and was secure," Meslow said.

Neighbors have reported they witnessed Wheeler and Bethany arguing outside the apartment Saturday evening. But Meslow said she is convinced Bethany would not willingly have allowed Wheeler to enter her Central Point apartment.

"If she had seen him, she would have called the police," she said. "He was harassing, stalking Jessica and making her life a living hell."

Court records show neither Bethany nor Wheeler took out restraining orders against each other.

In December 2009, Bethany was arrested on charges of misdemeanor fourth-degree assault and harassment for allegedly attacking Wheeler. But charges against Bethany were dropped before her scheduled trial after Wheeler gave a statement to Bethany's defense attorney, Michael Stedman, admitting he was the one who had twice "grabbed Bethany by the throat and pushed her back on the bed."

Bethany was only acting in self-defense when she bloodied his nose after striking him in the face in an effort to get away, Wheeler told investigators in the March 7, 2010, statement.

"She was only protecting herself," Wheeler told investigators, adding that the couple had discovered Bethany was newly pregnant at the time he made his statement.

That child, now 1, was dropped off with a neighbor by Wheeler before police arrived at the apartment Sunday.

The shock waves from this latest fatal domestic violence incident have reverberated across the county, said Gerry Sea, coordinator for the Jackson County Council Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

A scenario like the one described between Wheeler and Bethany can be a deadly one. If the man has a history of being abusive, and the woman is taking back control of her life, "that puts her at risk," Sea said.

"Survivors of domestic violence are rebuilding their lives," she said. "And that's the last thing an abuser wants. She is taking back her power."

Local domestic violence victims, survivors and advocates are concerned for the safety of all at-risk women, she said.

"The women are asking, 'Am I going to be next?' " Sea said. "And I have advocates telling me they are seeing women who they realize could be the next victim."

Bethany's murder follows close on the heels of the Criado family domestic-violence homicides in Medford, said Sea and Meslow.

"It is concerning," Sea said. "It raises the question, 'Is anyone really safe?' "

Domestic violence is a community issue, Sea said, adding Saturday's community vigil affords an opportunity to honor Jessica Bethany's life, and to learn more about how to prevent future tragedies.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.


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