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09/27/2013

Western Colorado man found guilty of sending interstate threatening communications

Defendant threatened to kill children, police officers and their families

DENVER – A man from western Colorado was found guilty Thursday of two counts of sending interstate threatening communications.

This conviction was announced by U.S. Attorney John Walsh, District of Colorado, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Kumar C. Kibble. Following a four-day jury trial, the jury deliberated for 75 minutes before reaching a verdict.

Kenneth Royal Wheeler, 32, of Grand Junction, Colo., is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 15 by U.S. District Court Judge William J. Martinez.

Wheeler was first charged by Criminal Complaint March 20, 2012. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver March 22, 2012. A superseding indictment was obtained May 21, 2013. The jury trial began Sept. 23, and the verdict was handed down Sept. 26.

According to court documents, as well as facts presented to the jury during trial, a person called the Grand Junction Police Department (GJPD) to report threatening Facebook posts. GJPD, working with HSI, conducted an investigation and determined that the threatening posts were made by Wheeler. It was also determined that Wheeler was in Rome, Italy, when he made the posts. In fact, one of the posts stated that Wheeler believed he could post anything he wanted and not be prosecuted because he was not physically in the United States.

Among Wheeler’s posts were instructions for people to kill children at a local daycare. He also told his "followers" to kill specific police officers, as well as their families and children. In one post Wheeler said: "the americans cant punish me for what i say here in rome italy on facebook. so. kill cops. drown them in the blood of their children, hunt them down and kill their entire blood lines."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Covell, District of Colorado, said during her closing arguments to the jury: "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."

Wheeler was arrested at the Grand Junction Airport once he returned to the United States from Rome.

Wheeler faces not more than five years in federal prison, and up to a $250,000 fine, per count, for each of the two counts of sending interstate threatening communications.

This case was investigated by HSI and GJPD.

The jury trial was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Colleen Covell and David Tonini. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer in the U.S. Attorney’s Grand Junction branch office provided substantial assistance during the investigation and pendency of the case.