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Central Point man sentenced to life in prison for murder

A Central Point man who stabbed his ex-girlfriend to death and tried to set her apartment on fire has been sentenced to at least 25 years in prison.

In front of a packed Jackson County Circuit Courtroom this afternoon, Judge Tim Gerking sentenced Jeffrey Wayne Wheeler, 37, to life in prison for the September 2011 murder of Jessica Bethany. Under state law, he will not be eligible for parole for 25 years.

The emotional crowd of friends and family of the 32-year-old woman spilled from the courtroom as the sentence was handed down.

Wheeler, red faced and with his head down, apologized to those who knew and loved Bethany.

"I want to take full responsibility for her death," he said, noting that he had relapsed into drug and alcohol use at the time of the murder

Wheeler, who on Nov. 16 pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and arson, said he would not have committed the crime when sober.

"I lost my mind and completely shut down," he said.

"I swear before God, I wish I was the one who was gone."

Gerking said what Wheeler did was "unconscionable."

"For the rest of your life, this will be your heavy burden," Gerking said.

Bethany's sister Jennifer offered forgiveness and asked those present in the courtroom to turn their hearts away from anger and hatred.

"I thought I would be filled with hatred, but I'm not," she said.

— Sanne Specht