The Commission on Capital Cases updates this information regularly. This information; however, is subject to change and may not reflect the latest status of an inmate’s case and should not be relied upon for statistical or legal purposes.
WHEELER, Jason (W/M)
5th Judicial Circuit, Lake County Case # 05-00377
Sentencing Judge: The Honorable Michael T. Johnson
Attorney, Trial: William Grossenbacher – Public Defender’s Office
Attorney, Direct Appeal: James R. Wulchak – Public Defender’s Office, Appellate Division
Attorney, Collateral Appeals: Maria Perinetti – CCRC-M
Date of Offense: 02/09/05
Date of Sentence: 10/23/06
Circumstances of Offense:
Jason Wheeler was convicted of the 01/09/05 murder of Deputy Wayne Koester and the contemporaneous attempted first-degree murder and battery with a firearm of deputies Thomas McKane and William Crotty.
On the morning of 01/09/05, Jason Wheeler’s then-girlfriend, Sara Heckerman, placed a 911 call from the Lake County home the couple shared. Deputies Wayne Koester, William Crotty, and Thomas McKane responded to the 911 call in full uniform, each driving a marked patrol car. Upon arrival, Deputy Crotty observed Heckerman with facial bruising and a head wound and made the decision to arrest Wheeler. The deputies then obtained Heckerman’s consent to search the premises. When deputies McKane and Koester began to mark the crime scene with tape, Wheeler appeared with a shotgun and began shooting at the two deputies. Deputy Crotty took cover at the rear end of one of the patrol cars and Wheeler turned and opened fire in that direction as well. Deputy Crotty then observed Deputy Koester running up the driveway, bleeding from wounds to his face and being chased by Wheeler who was aiming the shotgun at Deputy Koester’s back. Wheeler then turned to Deputy Crotty and fired, wounding him in the leg. When Deputy Crotty returned fire, Wheeler ran into the woods adjacent to the crime scene. Wheeler soon returned and continued to shoot at Deputy Crotty while yelling threats to kill him. When Wheeler ran back into the woods a second time, Deputy Crotty fired again at Wheeler, injuring him in the buttocks. Deputy McKane was also engaged in the gun battle with Wheeler, who returned fire and injured Deputy McKane’s leg, hand, arm, shoulder, and lip.
With Wheeler hiding in the woods, the search continued for several hours with the use of a search helicopter and tracking dogs. Another officer eventually found Wheeler lying on the ground in a wooded area near a lake. Upon being found, Wheeler stood and screamed several times for the officer to kill him. When Wheeler appeared to reach for a weapon, the officer fired shots at Wheeler, resulting in his permanent paralysis. Wheeler was found with speaker wire wrapped around his neck and reported to another officer that he had tried unsuccessfully to kill himself during the search.
Deputy Koester died as a result of a shotgun blast he received from Wheeler. Koester had sustained nonfatal injuries to his arms, hand, neck, buttocks, and legs caused by birdshot pellets. Koester had also sustained a nonfatal injury to his armpit, chest, and lungs caused by buckshot pellets. The last and fatal injury was a birdshot pellet injury to the head, during which pellets entered Koester’s left eye and lodged in his brain.
Wheeler later told a detention center guard, Richard Brown, that when he saw the deputies arranging crime scene tape on his property, he decided that he only had two options: to run or to “go out in a blaze of glory.” 
Prior Incarceration History in the State of Florida:
02/23/05 Indicted as follows:
Count I: First-Degree Murder (Wayne Koester)
Count II: Attempted First-Degree Murder
Count III: Attempted First-Degree Murder
Count IV: Battery of a Law Enforcement Officer
Count V: Battery of a Law Enforcement Officer
05/19/06 Jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts of the indictment
05/24/06 Jury recommended death by a vote of 10-2
10/23/06 Sentenced as follows:
Count I: First-Degree Murder (Wayne Koester) – Death
Count II: Attempted First-Degree Murder – Life in Prison
Count III: Attempted First-Degree Murder – Life in Prison
Count IV: Battery of a Law Enforcement Officer – Life in Prison
Count V: Battery of a Law Enforcement Officer – Life in Prison
Florida Supreme Court – Direct Appeal
4 So.3d 599
11/27/06 Appeal filed
10/07/08 Oral Arguments held
01/29/09 Appeal denied
02/13/09 Motion for Rehearing filed
03/16/09 Mandate issued
United States Supreme Court – Petition for Writ of Certiorari
130 S.Ct. 178
05/28/09 Petition filed.
10/05/09 Petition denied.
State Circuit Court – 3.851 Motion
09/14/10 3.851 Motion filed
02/04/11 Amended Motion on claim IV filed
Factors Contributing to the Delay in Imposition of Sentence:
There have been no undue delays at this time.
On 11/27/06, Wheeler filed a Direct Appeal in the Florida Supreme Court citing the following issues: (1) the trial court reversibly erred in allowing victim-impact evidence to become such a feature that it denied due process, fundamental fairness, and a reliable jury recommendation; (2) the prosecution used improper and inflammatory remarks that tainted the jury trial and rendered the entire proceeding fundamentally unfair; (3) the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s request for special jury instruction on heat of passion, thereby depriving the defendant of his right to due process of law; (4) by placing a higher burden of persuasion on the defense to prove that life imprisonment should be imposed than the burden that is placed on the state to prove that capital punishment should be imposed, fundamental fairness is violated and due process is denied; and, (5) Florida’s death-penalty scheme is unconstitutional under Ring v. Arizona. Oral Arguments were held on 10/07/08. On 01/29/09, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed Wheeler’s convictions and sentences. On 02/13/09, Wheeler filed a Motion for Rehearing, which was denied on 02/27/09. On 03/16/09, the Florida Supreme Court issued a mandate that proceedings be held in accordance with their opinion rendered on 01/29/09.
On 5/28/09, Wheeler filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. This petition was denied on 10/05/09.
On 9/14/10, Wheeler filed a 3.851 Motion in the circuit court. On 02/04/11, Wheeler filed an amendment on claim IV to his 3.851 Motion.
Information not available at this time.
Report Date: 01/30/09 AEH
Approved: 02/24/09 RM
Updated: 02/16/11 MJH
 Wheeler v. State, No. 06,2323 (Fla. Jan. 29, 2009).