Personal property request returns murderer to court

Convicted murderer Jeffrey Wayne Wheeler was not successful in collecting some personal property, including $250 prosecutors say he stole from his victim, in a court hearing Tuesday.

Wheeler, 38, appeared in Jackson County Circuit Court via video feed from Two Rivers Correctional Institute in Umatilla. Wheeler pleaded guilty last year to murdering Jessica Bethany in September 2011. He was sentenced to a minimum 25 years in prison.

Wheeler has since filed a court motion trying to collect some of his property that police confiscated as evidence in the murder case.

In his motion, Wheeler asked for his shoes, suitcase, some clothing and commemorative Alcoholics Anonymous coins be returned to him.

In addition, he asked for $250 he possessed at the time of his arrest.

Prosecutor David Orr objected to Wheeler's motion, noting that Wheeler has appealed his conviction and the clothing, which included blood spatter, could be used as evidence in the unlikely event of a retrial.

"In a murder trial this could be highly relevant evidence," Orr said.

Wheeler then argued that he would be willing to forgo the shoes as long as he got the coins, some jewelry he claimed belonged to his mother and the $250 in cash and change.

"That money was mine," Wheeler said. "I know I didn't steal any money from her."

However, Orr pointed out that Wheeler was essentially a transient when he committed the murder. He had been crashing at various friends' homes in the weeks before he entered Bethany's Central Point home and brutally murdered her.

Orr said that police found that Bethany's wallet was empty, which was strange since she worked as a bartender and often left work with cash from tips.

Also, about $50 in coins was found on Wheeler when he was arrested. He claims that he carried the money at all times, even when he entered Bethany's apartment that night.

Orr said he found this hard to believe.

"It seems pretty obvious that (Wheeler) did not have $250 in cash before the murder," Orr said.

Wheeler claimed he won the money playing poker the previous night.

"I beat everyone at the table," he said.

Wheeler's explanation left Judge Ray White and Orr shaking their heads.

Orr finished the hearing by saying that witnesses reported that Wheeler had planned to use the $250 on a plane or bus ticket out of the area.

"After the murder, he knew he had to get out of town," Orr said.

White then ruled that Wheeler could receive his commemorative coins, his suitcase and some clothing and jewelry that he could positively identify as belonging to his mother.

The judge ordered that the money and blood-spattered shoes be kept as evidence.

"At this point, I'm not particularly believing the poker theory," White said. "I'm finding that questionable."

Wheeler appeared frustrated by the ruling.

"I know the money was mine," Wheeler said. "So what option do I have now?"

White then concluded the hearing and the video feed showing Wheeler went dark.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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