Threats land man in prison for 40 months
A Grand Junction man who posted death threats on his Facebook page against a trio of Grand Junction police officers and their families was sentenced Wednesday to serve 40 months in federal prison.
Kenneth Wheeler, 32, also was ordered to serve three years of supervised release after his prison sentence. Wheeler was sentenced Wednesday afternoon in Denver by U.S. District Judge William Martinez. He faced a maximum possible prison term of 10 years for his jury trial conviction in September on two counts of felony sending interstate threatening communications.
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.”
The posts also mentioned 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 prosecutors argued to the jury last September that Wheeler was angry with the police department because of a May 2011 drunken-driving arrest.
Wheeler’s defense had argued 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 see 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 in the trial, “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.”