Wheeler gets max – 30 years in prison

OKEECHOBEE — An Okeechobee man found guilty of beating up a 16-year-old teen at a house party has been sentenced to spend the next 30 years of his life in prison.

Andrew Wheeler, 20, had been found guilty of aggravated child abuse and was sentenced Monday, Aug. 31, by Circuit Court Judge Sherwood Bauer.

Judge Bauer had only two choices in the sentencing — give Wheeler six years in prison as a youthful offender or, after designating him as a prison releasee re-offender, a mandatory 30 years.

The judge explained to Wheeler those were his only options, and he really didn’t like either. Six years was not enough, he said, and 30 was probably too much.

Andrew Wheeler

Andrew Wheeler

“Thirty years is an exceptionally long time,” he said. “But, the legislature has taken the decision out of the judge’s hands.”

Okeechobee City Police Department (OCPD) reports show the 16-year-old boy was taken to a local theater by his mother around 6:30 p.m. that evening. But, the didn’t go to the movie. Instead, he walked to the home of Evadean Dailey where he and other teens pooled their money to buy some whiskey.

The 16 year old reported drank four mixed drinks, four Locos and whiskey, three or four beers and some whiskey straight from the bottle. He became so intoxicated he couldn’t stand up, states those reports.

Shortly after Wheeler arrived at the S.W. Ninth Street home owned by Evadean Lydecker Dailey, he lashed out at the helpless teen and began punching him and kneeing him in the head. He then dragged the teen outside where the onslaught continued until the teen lost consciousness.

When the victim awoke, he stumbled away from the scene then collapsed on the city street. A woman found the boy in the 500 block of S.W. Sixth Street and called police.

Court records show Dailey’s trial has been set for Sept. 21. She is charged with open house party, contributing to the delinquency of a child, child abuse by intentionally inflicting physical/mental injury and child neglect.

According to Assistant State Attorney Ashley Albright, Wheeler had been out of prison just 74 days when he committed that Aug. 8, 2014, offense.

At the age of 16, Wheeler was sent to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Records show he was in the Department of Corrections (DOC) for about 6 months in 2013. He was later sent back to prison May 1, 2014, and was then released 26 days later.

He was then arrested again in August 2014 for beating the teen.

The entire incident was captured on video, and Mr. Albright played that video for the judge.

The prosecutor also pointed out Wheeler has been arrested twice while in the county jail.

One arrest was for his involvement in a fight, while the second arrest stemmed from an incident where he reportedly urinated on a fellow inmate.

“He has shown if he’s out on the streets of Okeechobee he will be committing a crime,” Mr. Albright said of Wheeler.

Defense attorney Michael Berg argued that his client should only be sentenced as a youthful offender because of his age and that he has expressed remorse for what he did.

“He has made some poor decisions in his life — a young life,” he said. “We’re here today to craft a just sentence. Thirty years is not an appropriate sentence.”

“Well, Mr. Wheeler, I will tell you the youthful offender status does not factually apply to you,” said Judge Bauer. “You’ve really shown you don’t have the ability in your life, at this point, to follow the law.”

Judge Bauer looked down on the young man before him in his orange and white county jail suit and told Wheeler without mincing words: “You are a criminal. I think you made a decision at 16 to do as you damn well please.

“You really don’t care,” added the judge.

Wheeler will receive credit for the 385 days he has spent in the Okeechobee County Jail.

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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