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Jury selection begins in Wheeler murder case

Paul Peirce
| Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Jury selection began Monday in Indiana County for a 17-year-old Blairsville teen accused of intentionally setting fire to her parents' home, killing her adoptive father.

Opening statements in the murder trial of Codee Wheeler are expected today.

Wheeler, who was a student at Blairsville-Saltsburg High School, will be tried as an adult for homicide in connection with the March 21, 2007, fire that killed William Wheeler, a former Burrell Township supervisor. She faces a potential sentence of life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.

William Wheeler, 57, was found dead inside his South Stewart Street home after the early morning blaze. The coroner ruled that he died of smoke inhalation.

State police fire marshal Tim Frew alleges that Codee Wheeler set the fire in the family room with kerosene that was stored in cans there.

Just before the fire, Codee Wheeler had returned home after running away for 10 days after a dispute with William and Susan Wheeler, her adoptive parents.

Codee Wheeler's grandmother, Darlene Viola, had turned in William Wheeler to Children and Youth Services for alleged abuse after she heard he had occasionally walked in on the teen as she used the bathroom, and had walked around in front of her in his underwear.

The agency found the abuse charges unfounded, but Codee Wheeler, then 16, ran away to a local hotel with the assistance of her biological mother, Georgianne Palmer.

Palmer of Homer City was charged with interference with the custody of children and is completing a probationary term for first-time offenders, according to court records. Her criminal record can later be expunged upon successful completion of probation.

Codee Wheeler's court-appointed attorney, Thomas Kauffman, has argued in previous court proceedings that the fire was accidental and may have been started by candles the family frequently burned in the family room.

Judge William Martin told prospective jurors during interviews yesterday that the trial is expected to last a week.

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