Jason Wheeler Taken Off Death Row from Murder Case

August 27, 2022 News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

A man who was convicted of killing a Florida police officer and injuring several others has just been removed from death row. Jason Wheeler, 47, has been given a new sentence in his case after the U.S. Supreme Court deemed that capital punishment was unconstitutional.

We will provide details of the case, along with the results of the resentencing.

What was the Original Case?

Wheeler was convicted of first-degree murder in 2005 after he shot and killed Deputy Wayne Koester after he responded to a domestic dispute between Wheeler and his girlfriend, Sara Heckerman.

Heckerman claimed that she asked her then-boyfriend for money for groceries, but he instead tied her up and put a shotgun to her head. Wheeler struck Heckerman in the head with a wooden boat oar, and then raped her. Wheeler threatened to kill Heckerman and any police officers she tried to call for help.

Heckerman called the police anyways, stressing that her boyfriend was dangerous, and she was worried about her well-being. When three officers arrived at their home, Wheeler surprised them with a shotgun and shot at the officers. Deputy Koester was killed, and Deputy Thomas McKane and Deputy William Crotty were injured in the shoot-off.

Lake County deputies started a manhunt in search of Wheeler, who had taken off into the swampy forest area of Lake Kathryn. Wheeler was finally shot and captured by the police, which also resulted in him becoming paralyzed. He was convicted on the murder charge in 2006.

Wheeler has now been resentenced due to the capital felony requiring a decision for either the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole. The resentencing lasted several days, and the verdict form given to the set of jurors read, “If your vote to impose death is less than unanimous, then the trial court shall impose a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.”

The jurors agreed that the case had aggravating factors to impose the death penalty, which included the death of a police officer. They agreed that killing an officer was a “cold, calculated and premeditated manner.” However, there was no unanimous decision that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating ones.

Wheeler’s defense team argued that their client has the ability to “appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct [and] was impaired by an emotional disturbance, drug abuse, sleep deprivation, and stress related to his struggle to fix the couple’s storm-damaged trailer.”

The resentencing resulted in Wheeler getting moved off of Florida’s death row. He has now been given the new punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Florida’s Stance on the Death Penalty

Under Florida’s Statute on criminal procedure and corrections, it defines the process for sentencing a defendant to either life in prison or to the death penalty. Under Section 921.141, a defendant found guilty of a capital felony can either be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

In a capital case, the jury must be able to prove that there are existing aggravating factors in the case. The finding of aggravating factors must be unanimous, and if it is not unanimous, then the defendant is ineligible for the death sentence. If the jury unanimously finds at least one aggravating factor in the case, then they are eligible for the death penalty sentence.

Data from the Death Penalty Information Center shows that more prisoners have been exonerated in Florida than in any other state in the U.S. In 21 of the 23 exoneration cases, over 90% of the jury have voted for life in prison rather than the death penalty.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime, your first step should be reaching out to a skilled defense attorney in your area. A guilty conviction can lead to punishments such as hefty fines, imprisonment, or in the most severe cases such as the one above—capital punishment. Working with an attorney to build a strong defense to your case is the best way to ensure your freedom. Call Pumphrey Law Firm today for a free consultation regarding your case. We vow to stand by your side throughout the entire legal process and work towards earning your freedom. Contact us at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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