Man pleads guilty to murder, arson

The Associated Press /

MEDFORD — A Central Point man has pleaded guilty to murdering his former girlfriend and attempting to set her apartment on fire.

Jeffrey Wheeler, 37, also pleaded no contest Friday to charges of abuse of a corpse and criminal mistreatment for events that occurred after he killed Jessica Bethany. Prosecutors said he left his 10-month-old daughter with a neighbor after the killing with the intent to abandon her.

“Everybody agreed this will be a good resolution to the case,” Jackson County prosecutor David Orr told the Mail Tribune. He said Wheeler won’t be eligible for parole for at least 25 years.

Bethany’s body was found in her apartment Sept. 4, 2011, after a man called to report a possibly deceased person. She had been stabbed multiple times. The kitchen stove gas had been left on, and a piece of paper attached to a bookcase near the front door was set on fire.

Wheeler was arrested in Medford hours after the discovery. He has been in the county jail since then.

Bethany’s friend and relatives did not attend the plea hearing.

Friends said shortly after her death that the 32-year-old Bethany had ended her relationship with Wheeler and went on a date with another man.

Veronica Reid, Bethany’s friend and co-worker at a Medford bar, told the newspaper she was pleased to hear the news of Wheeler’s plea and hopes to attend the sentencing.

Reid said she had been working at the bar about three months before Bethany started. Reid trained her, and the two became friends. She said Bethany’s demeanor always helped to put co-workers in a good mood.

“She just had a beautiful, happy spirit,” Reid said.

Central Point police Chief Kristine Allison said investigators were satisfied with Wheeler’s plea.

“We were prepared to go to trial, and the District Attorney’s Office would have prevailed,” Allison said. “To see people not take that road, we have satisfaction for that, too.”

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