Central Point man enters plea of not guilty in murder

CENTRAL POINT — A man accused of stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death at her home in Central Point earlier this month has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, arson and abuse of a corpse.

Jeffrey Wayne Wheeler, 36, of Central Point, entered his pleas Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court.

He is charged with murder, five counts of first-degree arson and first-degree abuse of a corpse in the death of 32-year-old Jessica Bethany, a mother and a popular bartender who worked in Medford.

The murder charge carries a minimum 25-year prison sentence and a maximum life sentence, under Oregon law.

Wheeler's next court appearance is a pre-trial hearing scheduled for Dec. 19, according to Circuit Court records.

Homicide detectives believe Wheeler confronted Bethany inside her apartment on East Pine Street in Central Point.

During a violent domestic dispute between the two, Wheeler stabbed Bethany multiple times, police allege.

Police found Bethany's body inside her apartment near Abby's pizza after a male caller reported "a possible deceased adult" at about 7:36 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 4.

Wheeler was identified as the primary suspect and was later detained by police in Medford.

Bethany was well-known throughout Medford, having worked as a bartender at Howie's on Front downtown for several years.

Wheeler and Bethany have a 1-year-old daughter. The pair also have children from previous relationships, according to people acquainted with them.

Bethany's children are staying with relatives, police said.

Friends and co-workers of Bethany have said that Wheeler exhibited threatening behavior toward her preceeding her death. Howie's staff at one point banned Wheeler from entering the bar.

A fundraiser for her children is scheduled for this evening at Howie's. Today would have been Bethany's 33rd birthday.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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