Jason Wheeler was sentenced to death by the State of Florida for the murder of a police officer. According to court documents three police officers were responding to a 911 call when Jason Wheeler would open fire with a shotgun striking and killing Deputy Wayne Koester. Jason Wheeler would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death.
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An attorney for convicted cop killer Jason Wheeler asked the Florida Supreme Court this week to overturn his death sentence, arguing that the trial attorneys failed to raise two key points in his defense.
Mark Gruber, an attorney for the death-row inmate, focused on claims that trial attorneys could have proven Wheeler was acting on the influence of drugs during the February 2005 shooting and that the use of 54 photos of the victim, Lake Deputy Wayne Koester, during the last phase of the trial was excessive.
Wheeler, 37, was convicted of the first-degree murder of Koester, one of the deputies dispatched to Wheeler’s Paisley home for a domestic-violence complaint. Eventually, deputies tracked down Wheeler and shot and paralyzed him.
During a hearing in Tallahassee, Gruber argued that trial attorneys should have conducted testing of Wheeler’s bloody bandages from his gunshot wounds. Testing of the bandages conducted after his conviction showed evidence of methamphetamine, cocaine and opiates in his blood stream, according to court records.
In the months before Koester’s death, after losing his job and his home in the 2004 hurricanes, Wheeler deteriorated from drug addiction. “What you see is a spiral, a methamphetamine binge,” Gruber said.
Justice Charles T. Canady questioned whether such testing would have helped Wheeler because the testing can’t show the amount of drugs in his system and how much the drugs had influenced his actions.
“What it allows is virtually meaningless,” Canady said. “It tells you nothing but what is already known, that this is a gentleman who abused drugs.”
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Nunnelley argued there was plenty of trial testimony about Wheeler’s chronic methamphetamine and cocaine use.
“Nobody ever said the defendant was not using methamphetamine,” Nunnelley said. “Testing of those bandages for meth was cumulative. It adds nothing to the case except expenses.”
Gruber also questioned how jurors were affected by photos of Koester presented during the penalty phase showing him holding his babies, celebrating with his wife, as a National Guard member and as a youth coach. Such photos become part of death-penalty cases to show the impact of a victim’s death. However, Gruber argued that trial attorneys failed to object to the number of the photos and the extent of the victim-impact testimony. Nunnelley countered that the victim’s photos were not the deciding factor that led jurors to vote 10-2 for the death sentence.
“Those pictures didn’t earn him a death sentence. His actions on Feb. 9, 2005, earned him a death sentence,” Nunnelley said. “This is a case where death is undoubtedly the correct sentence.”