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Murder cases stretch county resources

The five murder trial cases on the docket for 2012 could make it a daunting year for the Jackson County District Attorney's Office and law enforcement.

Most of the cases are the result of what is likely the most violent year in Jackson County's recent history, with 10 reported murders in a span of nine months. The second most violent year in the last eight years, 2005, saw four murders, according to FBI reports.

"We had the single largest homicide event in the history of Jackson County with five victims in one location," said Medford police Chief Tim George of the Criado murder case, in which a man is suspected of killing his wife and four children on West 10th Street in Medford.

That and the other cases, including a near-beheading in Ashland for which no suspect has yet been found, have put a strain on local law enforcement.

"The workload is extremely high," said Medford police Lt. Bob Hansen. "Obviously we have to look into those cases very, very deeply and thoroughly. Money-wise and time-wise, they can be very timely and costly, but it's what we have to do."

Multiple Jackson County law enforcement agencies respond to murders in a cooperative way through the Major Assault Death Investigation Unit.

"Anytime you have a situation or a case like that, it immediately becomes the agency's top priority," said Jackson County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Andrea Carlson. "It's an all-hands-on-deck type of a situation, (and) in a year like 2011, it happened several times."

As dates for the murder trials approach, it could mean other cases have to get put on the back burner while attorneys prepare. Typically, the D.A.'s office assigns two attorneys to a murder case.

"Probably our biggest involvement is preparing a case for trial," said District Attorney Mark Huddleston. "It varies from case to case, but they're all important cases."

It also can mean additional expenses. Expert witnesses may need to be flown in to give testimony, though it's not yet known which cases might require such expertise. The office has $20,000 budgeted for expert witness testimony.

"But when you have a number of cases all at once, that can use up all of (it)," said Deputy District Attorney Beth Heckert. "At this point we don't really know yet know how all of those are going to come in."

Of the five 2012 murder trial cases, four stem from 2011 killings, the fifth from 1996. Starting trial dates so far are set for Jan. 31, March 6, April 3 and Dec. 4.

Standing trial on Jan. 31 will be William Frank Simmons, 31, who is suspected of killing Kaelin Glazier in 1996 after she stopped at his home on her way to a church youth group at Applegate Christian Fellowship.

Mitchell Below, accused of strangling his wife to death in their Medford home, is set to go to trial March 6.

Michael Seems, suspected of stabbing 18-year-old Ted Miguel Sanchez in a Phoenix trailer park, has an April 3 trial date. Jeffrey Wheeler, who allegedly stabbed Jessica Bethany before attempting to set her Central Point apartment and body ablaze, has a Dec. 4 trial date.

Jordan Criado, accused of killing his wife and four children before setting his home on fire July 18, does not yet have a trial date, but one is expected to be set by March 5.

Cases that will not be going to trial include a Shady Cove murder-suicide that claimed the lives of Dewayne and Makiala Lynn Upton on Nov. 22 and the near-decapitation of David Grubbs on Nov. 19 on the Central Ashland Bike Path.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com

During a violent domestic dispute between the two, Jeffrey Wayne Wheeler, 36, of Central Point stabbed 32-year-old Jessica Bethany multiple times, inside her apartment on East Pine Street in Central Point. file photo - file photo