Last September, when we reported that Kenneth Wheeler could get five years in prison for Facebook posts, a lot of you probably thought, "Fat chance." And you were right to be skeptical, albeit only by a matter of degree. Wheeler's now been sentenced to forty months -- just over three years. And that's not all.
What the hell could he have posted to earn that kind of a jolt? For one thing, he encouraged the murder of cops and kids, even providing helpful info about a daycare center.
As we've reported, Wheeler's message probably wasn't widely distributed: Months after his conviction, the Facebook page remains online, and it only shows fifteen friends -- one fewer than it had at the time of our previous post. But the U.S. Attorney's Office took what he typed plenty seriously anyhow.
Among the photos still on view is this one, showing Wheeler pretending to sleep through a class at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction....
...and this one, taken when he was considerably more alert:
Prosecutors say Wheeler, 32, first came to the attention of the local police department after cops received a tip about a a worrisome Facebook post. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel's original article about Wheeler, published in March 2012, describes the item as "rambling" and "often nonsensical," and based on excerpts from the warrant issued in his name -- for instance, the introduction cited the "STARDRAGON celestial override contingency" -- that sounds about right. But underpinning the weirdness were violent statements.
Examples? Wheeler urged folks to go after "rapists, pedophiles and cops," writing, "kill them all. Hang em upside down set their face on fire and saw them in half."
The mention of cops wasn't a general one: He referenced three Grand Junction police officers by name, as well as a specific daycare center in central GJ. He suggested that his "followers" just "walk in and kill everybody. phug it. they want to play games lets play the game of life, where winners live and losers die."
Another catchy quote mentioned by the U.S. Attorney's Office: "kill cops. drown them in the blood of their children, hunt them down and kill their entire blood lines" -- but only if "my dui charges are not dropped." The Sentinel reports that he was awaiting trial on a DUI from May 2011.
Apparently, Wheeler felt he could share such thoughts on Facebook with impunity because of his location; he wrote, "the americans cant punish me for what i say here in rome italy on facebook."
Turns out Wheeler actually was in Rome -- but authorities with Homeland Security Investigations didn't brush off these remarks due to his locale at the time they went online. Indeed, when he flew back into Grand Junction, he was arrested at the airport.
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In mid-September, a jury found Wheeler guilty on two counts of sending interstate threatening communications, after deliberating a whopping 75 minutes. Maximum punishments were listed as up to five years in federal prison and a fine of as much as $250,000 per count, but he wound up getting a bit of a break. The U.S. Attorney's Office notes that U.S. District Court Judge William J. Martinez ordered Wheeler to serve forty months in federal prison, with another three years of supervised probation upon his release. No fines were included in the package.
For that reason, Wheeler should be able to afford Internet access after he serves his time. But when it comes to Facebook, he should think about starting over.
More from our Schmuck of the Week archive: "Jamie Paulin-Ramirez sentenced for schmucky support of terrorist 'Jihad Jane.'"