Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Family of slain ex-Pentagon official John Wheeler wants info

WILMINGTON, Del. — The family of a slain ex-Pentagon official whose body was found in a Delaware landfill still doesn't know what happened to him, and their attempts to get more information from law enforcement have been rebuffed, their attorney said Monday.

Colm Connolly, an attorney for John Wheeler III's family, said he has asked forensic reports, search warrants and a copy of a video surveillance tape showing Wheeler in downtown Wilmington the night before his body was found. Connolly also noted that Wheeler's family learned only through the media last week that a medical examiner had officially determined that Wheeler died of blunt trauma injuries after being assaulted.

The family was told early in the investigation that Wheeler had died of a heart attack caused by an assault.

Wheeler's body was found among trash being dumped at the Wilmington landfill on the morning of Dec. 31. Wheeler, 66, was seen on video surveillance cameras wandering around downtown Wilmington two days before his body was found. The garbage truck that dumped his body had collected all of its trash from commercial disposal bins in Newark, several miles from both his home in New Castle and from downtown Wilmington.

Police, who do not have any suspects, still don't know how Wheeler wound up in Newark.

Attorney General Beau Biden's office, along with police investigators, have sought to keep information about the case from the public. Biden's office asked a judge to seal a search warrant for Wheeler's home, and three search warrants for Wheeler's cell phone and his 1993 Oldsmobile were sealed at the request of Newark police.

Wheeler's family announced Sunday they were offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

"We are grateful for the outpouring of sympathy and concern we have received over the past few weeks and for the efforts of the law enforcement authorities to uncover the circumstances surrounding Jack's death," the family said in a statement. "We have suffered a heartbreaking loss, and not knowing how Jack died amplifies the devastation we feel. Our hope in offering this reward is to encourage anyone who may have helpful information to come forward so that justice can be served."

Connolly, a former U.S. attorney for Delaware, said he understands law enforcement must be careful about disclosing information.

"On the other hand, I think when there is information that can bring some comfort and mitigate even to a small extent the sense of loss to the victim, authorities should release that information if it would not jeopardize their investigative efforts," he said.

Jason Miller, a spokesman for Biden, did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone Monday evening.

While authorities are still trying to piece together a timeline, Connolly said Wheeler arrived Dec. 24 in New York City, where he and his wife had an apartment, to join family members for the holidays.

Wheeler traveled on Dec. 28 from New York to Washington, D.C., where he worked. He is believed to have traveled on to Delaware later that same day, Connolly said. Wheeler's last communication with a family member was an e-mail sent on the morning of Dec. 29.

Connolly wouldn't release the e-mail.


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