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Frank Gray

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Still waiting, mother wants slain son’s case closed

Wheeler

At 5:30 Tuesday afternoon, under the dome in the Allen County Courthouse, families will gather for a candlelight vigil in which the names of homicide victims of the last three years will be read.

When all the names have been spoken, individuals, some still memorializing homicide victims from the 1970s, will have a chance to utter slain family members’ names in a fleeting moment of remembrance.

One person who will be on hand is a woman named Denise Wheeler. This will be the seventh year she has attended the vigil. Wheeler says she won’t be permitted to speak, but she will be allowed to say the name of her son, Damion Wheeler, and she prays every year that something comes of it.

Denise Wheeler’s story is one of sadness and frustration.

About 4:15 p.m. on June 28, 2006, at the intersection of Lillie and Baxter streets, her son, who was 19, was gunned down. It was a brazen, broad-daylight killing, and there were plenty of witnesses, Wheeler says.

In a story published a few months after the killing, police said there was little physical evidence. Wheeler, meanwhile, begged witnesses to come forward, but in the do-not-snitch atmosphere of the time, few people were willing to step up and tell what they saw.

Police were able to turn the case over to the prosecutor, police say, but for some reason, no one was ever charged or brought to trial.

That left Denise Wheeler incensed, and she remains incensed today. She said she knows who the killer was. Everybody knew who the killer was, she says. But no one would talk.

Now, nearly seven years later, the case of the murder of Damion Wheeler remains open, technically unsolved.

Damion Wheeler had an infant son at the time he was killed, but, “Right now I have nothing, when my grandchild gets older, to tell him.” Wheeler says.

Wheeler is still begging for people to come forward, to tell the police what they saw, what they know firsthand.

“If you don’t do it for me, do it for his 6-year-old son who will never know him,” Wheeler said. “Feel some remorse and come forward.”

In a way, it would make little difference if witnesses were to finally come forward. The man who Wheeler says killed her son is dead now, and you can’t prosecute a dead man.

What Wheeler wants is for the responsibility for her son’s murder to be established, for the record, the police record, at least, to show that a specific person did it.

So would it make any difference if witnesses were to finally appear? I asked the police.

“If someone called with information, we would interview them, since the case is still open, and we would send the information to the prosecutor,” Police Chief Rusty York said.

A case never closes if police don’t know who a suspect is, York said. On the other hand, if it can be established who committed a murder, but the suspect is now dead, a case can be closed.

That’s what Wheeler is hoping for, for her son’s case to finally be closed, so she can have something to tell her grandson when he’s old enough to understand.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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