Jeffrey Wheeler pleads guilty to murder, arson charges

A Central Point man accused of stabbing his ex-girlfriend multiple times before attempting to set her and her apartment on fire last year pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and arson charges today in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Jeffrey Wheeler, 37, also pleaded no contest to charges of abuse of a corpse and criminal mistreatment for things that happened after he killed Jessica Bethany, 32. The criminal mistreatment charge stemmed from attempting to leave his daughter with a neighbor.

"He is simply saying I'm not contesting the charges," said David Orr, lead prosecutor for the Jackson County District Attorney's Office. "It has the same legal effect as a guilty plea."

Under the pleas, Wheeler likely will face a minimum 25-year prison sentence. The other sentences will run concurrently with the murder sentence.

"It makes it very unlikely that any kind of appeal would be successful," Orr said.

Additional charges against Wheeler have been dropped.

An official sentencing date has not yet been set, but Orr said he anticipated it would be soon.

"I'm guessing within the month," he said.

Police said the murder took place Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011. Wheeler went to Bethany's apartment and confronted her, which led to a physical fight. Wheeler stabbed Bethany multiple times, killing her, before attempting to set the apartment on fire. A call to 911 placed at 7:36 p.m. that evening reported a possibly deceased person. Police responded and found Bethany's body. Wheeler was later identified as the suspect.

Bethany was a bartender at Howie's on Front in downtown Medford.

— Ryan Pfeil

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