Christopher D. Wheeler, ousted from his headmaster’s job at elite Tower Hill School 14 months ago when authorities found thousands of images of boys engaging in sex with men on his computer, was found guilty of 25 counts of dealing in child pornography Monday.
Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis made his announcement during a 45-minute court hearing where he outlined his conclusion that Wheeler “intentionally” sought and collected child porn.
Wheeler, 54, faces a minimum of 50 years in prison – two years on each count – at his March 27 sentencing.
The guilty verdict in the non-jury trial caps a stunning fall for the man who was in his ninth year at the helm of the $26,000-a-year institution in west Wilmington when he was arrested 13 months ago. Wheeler’s 2012 compensation exceeded $300,000.
Wheeler showed no emotion in court, where he wore a white prison jumpsuit and leg shackles.
He has been held in lieu of $1.5 million cash bail at the Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington since his arrest, but Davis revoked his bail Monday.
Wheeler’s attorney, Thomas A. Foley, said he disagreed with the judge’s conclusion. “It’s onward and upward,” Foley said after the verdict, saying the next move would be an appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court.
Deputy Attorney General Abigal Layton said, “We are pleased” with the verdict but said she could not say more until after sentencing.
Attorney General Beau Biden’s spokesman Joseph Rogalsky said Biden “is very proud of the work the Child Predator Task Force has done on this case and every one of the more than 200 convictions that have been secured as a result of its work.”
Foley had argued in papers and during a brief trial that Wheeler should be exonerated because the state has no proof that he actually viewed the child porn. Foley asserted that Wheeler subscribed to lawful online newsgroups with no knowledge they contained graphic, illegal images.
The state argued that “we have this pattern that Mr. Filthy is seeking out child pornography,” Foley said during closing arguments last month.
That contention differed from the testimony of the state’s lone witness, state police Detective Kevin Perna, who presented no evidence Wheeler ever looked at the objectionable images, let alone shared them with others, Foley said then.
“There’s no proof he knew,” Foley argued, telling Davis prosecutors want to cast Wheeler was “Mr. Filthy.”
Layton, who did not use the term “Mr. Filthy” when referring to Wheeler, countered that newsgroups he paid for had limited content that left 5,000 images or videos of child porn or child erotica on his iMac computer. Authorities seized the evidence from Wheeler’s Tower Hill-owned mansion on Mount Salem Lane in October 2013, and Wheeler later conceded he had sole access to his computers.
Wheeler was the same man, Layton argued in November, who had searched the Internet for “gayboystube” after 1 a.m. the day of the search. He was the same educator who was running a “Net Shred” program designed to eradicate a computer’s internet history when authorities, led by Attorney General Beau Biden’s top two deputies, knocked on his door, she said.
Wheeler sought out and used child porn “for his own gratification,” Layton said. “It was not a mistake. It was by design.”
For example, one image seized by authorities showed a naked boy, age 8 to 10, with his “hands bound behind his back and leaning on a table” while he appeared to be performing oral sex on an adult with his hand on the boy’s head, police wrote in Wheeler’s arrest affidavit.
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SOURCE: Delaware Online
Cris Barrish, The News Journal