MEDFORD— A Central Point man has been sentenced to at least 25 years in prison for stabbing his former girlfriend to death and trying to set her body on fire.
Jeffrey Wayne Wheeler, 37, apologized in court Monday to friends and family of Jessica Bethany, 32, and said he had relapsed into drug and alcohol use, the Medford Mail Tribune reported.
“I swear before God, I wish I was the one who was gone,” Wheeler said.
Bethany broke up with Wheeler, prosecutors said.
Enraged, he got into her apartment shortly before 2 a.m. on Sept. 3, 2011, and attacked her, said prosecutor David Orr.
He stabbed her 22 times and then tried to hide the crime by pouring lighter fluid on her body, turning on the gas range, removing the smoke detector and lighting fuses, the prosecutor said.
During the killing, their 11-month-old daughter was in the one-bedroom apartment, he said.
Family members said Bethany had grown to fear Wheeler and was moving to get a restraining order and to file for custody of their daughter.
Wheeler pleaded guilty Nov. 16 to first-degree murder and arson.
Judge Tim Gerking sentenced him to life in prison. Under state law, he will not be eligible for parole for 25 years.
“There are very few fates for a young child worse than the loss of a mother,” Gerking said. “I just can’t imagine the panic and fear she experienced in the moments before she died. For the rest of your life, this will be your heavy burden.”