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Killer Garners 2 Life Terms

Posted: February 21, 2008 1:13 a.m.
Updated: April 23, 2008 5:04 a.m.
Robert Wheeler tried to end his life on New Year's Day in 2005. Now, more than three years later, Wheeler will stay alive to spend the rest of it in prison. On Wednesday morning, San Fernando Superior Court Judge Ronald Coen sentenced the 28-year-old to two life prison terms plus 100 years to life for his role in a shooting spree in Santa Clarita. Wheeler may be eligible for parole after serving both life terms plus 85 percent of the 100 years to life term.

The sentence was announced in front of a packed courtroom that included the parents of a man killed by the defendant, and at least one of the victims who lived to tell about the attack.

Wheeler pleaded guilty Feb. 1 to one count of first-degree murder and two of attempted murder. He admitted all allegations of use of a firearm to commit the crimes.

His shooting spree started the evening of Jan. 1, 2005, at Santa Clarita Gifts on San Fernando Road in Newhall, where, for unknown reasons, he shot Christopher Simons in the face with a .22-caliber rifle. Simons, 24, was the lone clerk in the store at the time. The prosecutor said Wheeler returned 15 minutes later and shot him again in the face when saw that Simons was showing some signs of life.

Shortly thereafter, the Sheriff's Department received reports that two other people had been shot in Saugus. One was shot as he chased a burglar out of his home, and another as he sifted through trash cans. Both victims survived their injuries.

Later that night, Wheeler reportedly called authorities from a pay phone in Stevenson Ranch and confessed to the two Saugus shootings. Deputies quickly converged on the scene in an attempt to apprehend him, but Wheeler shot himself in the head as they approached.

However, the apparent suicide attempt failed. Wheeler regained consciousness a week later; he was arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder.

According to Deputy District Attorney Tuppence Macintyre, Wheeler lived with his mother in Oregon, yet spent time with his father in Santa Clarita, where he stayed at the time of the shootings. She said that on Jan. 1, 2005, the defendant armed himself with his father's rifle, purchased ammunition for it and commenced his shooting spree.

In attendance at the sentencing hearing on Wednesday were Cindy and Stuart Simons, the parents of the clerk. Both addressed the court, as did one of the attempted murder victims, Alan Stearns. Stearns was shot once in the back by the defendant, who had been trying to break into the victim's house. Stearns was trying to get the license number on the defendant's van when he was shot.

The other victim, Randall Price, was shot while looking for recycled material in a dumpster behind an Albertson's Market in Santa Clarita. He was shot twice in the back. One bullet remains lodged close to his spinal column.

The defendant's van ran out of gas after he fled from Stearns' home, authorities said. He called 911 from a pay phone and was arrested when authorities arrived. Wheeler has remained in custody without bail since his arrest.


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