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88-year-old man accused of killing his wife appears in court

A Medford octogenarian has been indicted by a Jackson County grand jury for murder in the killing his wife, using a weapon the man had owned for more than 75 years.

James Edward Wheeler, 88, was arraigned Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court on a charge of second-degree murder in the death of 87-year-old Joanne Marcella Wheeler Monday morning. (Corrected)

Police say Wheeler intended to carry out a murder-suicide, but Wheeler survived after shooting himself.

Wearing a Jackson County Jail issued anti-suicide garment and sitting in a wheelchair, Wheeler appeared to be somewhat hard of hearing, but otherwise was alert during the court appearance via closed circuit television.

The grand jury drew from testimony of three Jackson County sheriff’s deputies Thursday before charging Wheeler with the single homicide charge in Joanne Wheeler’s death, according to the indictment.

Health problems involving Wheeler and his wife allegedly prompted the violence at the Wheelers’ home in the 2800 block of Judy Drive, according to documents filed by Jackson County Sheriff’s Office detectives.

Wheeler allegedly told police while he was at the hospital that both he and his wife had been suffering from “medical problems,” and that he’d come to the conclusion that the two of them would be “better off dead than alive.”

At about 5 a.m. Monday, Wheeler allegedly told police, he shot his wife using a 20-gauge shotgun he’d owned since he was 12 years old.

Wheeler then took the gun into the home’s laundry room and shot himself.

First responders were called to the scene about 8:51 a.m. and found Joanne Wheeler dead and James Wheeler with serious injuries, according to police and an earlier news report. Detectives arrived on scene at 9:09 a.m.

Some two hours later, James Wheeler was alert enough to provide details to police while being prepped for surgery at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center.

Jackson County Jail records show that Wheeler was booked into the jail later that same day, and Wheeler remained in jail Friday.

Under Oregon law, defendants charged with first- or second-degree murder are not allowed release from jail “when the proof is evident or the presumption strong that the person is guilty.” The only other crime in Oregon that prohibits release from jail while charges are pending is treason.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Correction: The homicide victim's name is Joanne Wheeler. An earlier version of this story used an incorrect first name.

James Edward Wheeler, 88, faces a charge of second-degree murder in the shooting death of his 87-year-old wife, Joan. 'Medical problems allegedly led up to the homicide. Jackson County Jail booking photo.