Junction man guilty of threats on Facebook
A federal jury in Denver needed only 75 minutes of deliberation Thursday night to convict a Grand Junction man in connection with threats he posted to his Facebook page against Grand Junction police and local children.
Kenneth Wheeler, 32, was found guilty on two counts of sending interstate threatening communications after a four-day trial before U.S. District Judge William Martinez, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver said. Wheeler, who is being held in federal custody, is scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 15.
He faces a maximum five years in federal prison for each count, and a fine of up to $250,000 per count.
Wheeler was indicted by a federal grand jury in March 2012 after a tipster reported a series of posts on Facebook. The posts named Grand Junction police officers Adam Winch, Tim Janda and Mark Brown, while urging readers to take aim at “rapists, pedophiles and cops.”
“Kill them all. Hang em upside down set their face on fire and saw them in half,” one of the posts said. The threats also involved the officers’ children.
Wheeler wrote in one of his posts, “… the americans cant punish me for what i say here in rome, italy, on facebook,” according to the indictment.
Facebook security personnel provided to federal authorities information about Wheeler’s latest account sessions, showing IP computer addresses in Rome, Italy.
Federal agents arrested Wheeler after meeting his plane at Grand Junction Regional Airport.
Police spokeswoman Kate Porras told The Daily Sentinel in March 2012 that the department notified the officers named in Wheeler’s threats and took steps toward protecting their safety and that of their families.
Wheeler was arrested in a May 5, 2011, drunken-driving case involving a traffic stop by Grand Junction Police Department officers.
Wheeler’s defense this past week had argued he believed he’d already deleted all of his Facebook “friends” and had his privacy settings and status updates limited to friends and networks. Therefore, his lawyer argued, he believed nobody would read the posts.
Wheeler also argued he was protected by the First Amendment.
“Mr. Wheeler asserts that the (Facebook) status updates were venting of outrageously angry words and that he was not declaring any intention ...” his attorneys wrote in a pretrial filing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Covell told jurors during closing arguments on Thursday, “Ladies and gentlemen, the First Amendment allows you to burn a flag in protest of the government, but it doesn’t allow you to threaten to burn the faces of the children of the Grand Junction Police Department.”