Ex-Headmaster of Elite Delaware Prep School Guilty of Dealing in Child Porn

Then-Tower Hill headmaster Christopher D. Wheeler speaks at the 2013 graduation ceremony. (WILLIAM BRETZGER/THE NEWS JOURNAL)
Then-Tower Hill headmaster Christopher D. Wheeler speaks at the 2013 graduation ceremony. (WILLIAM BRETZGER/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

A former headmaster at an elite Delaware school, who was ousted 14 months ago when authorities found thousands of images of boys engaging in sex with men on his computer, was found guilty of 25 counts of dealing in child pornography Monday.

During a 45-minute court hearing, Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis outlined his conclusion that Christopher D. Wheeler “intentionally” sought and collected child porn.

Wheeler, 54, faces a minimum of 50 years in prison — two years on each count — at his March 27 sentencing.

The guilty verdict in the non-jury trial caps a stunning fall for the man who was in his ninth year at the helm of the $26,000-a-year Tower Hill School in west Wilmington when he was arrested in November 2013. Wheeler’s 2012 compensation exceeded $300,000.

Wheeler showed no emotion in court, where he wore a white prison jumpsuit and leg shackles.

He has been held in lieu of $1.5 million cash bail at the Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington since his arrest, but Davis revoked his bail Monday.

Wheeler’s attorney, Thomas A. Foley, said he disagreed with the judge’s conclusion.

“It’s onward and upward,” Foley said after the verdict, saying the next move would be an appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court.

Deputy Attorney General Abigail Layton said, “We are pleased” with the verdict but said she could not say more until after sentencing.

Attorney General Beau Biden’s spokesman Joseph Rogalsky said Biden “is very proud of the work the Child Predator Task Force has done on this case and every one of the more than 200 convictions that have been secured as a result of its work.”

Foley had argued in papers and during a brief trial that Wheeler should be exonerated because the state has no proof that he actually viewed the child porn. Foley asserted that Wheeler subscribed to lawful online newsgroups with no knowledge they contained graphic, illegal images.

The state argued that “we have this pattern that Mr. Filthy is seeking out child pornography,” Foley said during closing arguments last month.

That contention differed from the testimony of the state’s lone witness, state police Detective Kevin Perna, who presented no evidence Wheeler ever looked at the objectionable images, let alone shared them with others, Foley said then.

“There’s no proof he knew,” Foley argued, telling Davis that prosecutors want to cast Wheeler as “Mr. Filthy.”

Layton, who did not use the term “Mr. Filthy” when referring to Wheeler, countered that newsgroups he paid for had limited content that left 5,000 images or videos of child porn or child erotica on his iMac computer. Authorities seized the evidence from Wheeler’s Tower Hill-owned mansion in October 2013, and Wheeler later conceded he had sole access to his computers.

Wheeler was the same man, Layton argued in November, who had searched the Internet for “gayboystube” after 1 a.m. the day of the search. He was the same educator who was running a “Net Shred” program designed to eradicate a computer’s Internet history when authorities, led by Biden’s top two deputies, knocked on his door, she said.

Wheeler sought out and used child porn “for his own gratification,” Layton said. “It was not a mistake. It was by design.”

For example, one image seized by authorities showed a naked boy, age 8 to 10, with his “hands bound behind his back and leaning on a table” while he appeared to be performing oral sex on an adult with his hand on the boy’s head, police wrote in Wheeler’s arrest affidavit.

‘PATTERN OF BROWSING’ FOR CHILD PORN

Before pronouncing his verdict, Davis rejected all of Foley’s arguments, saying that the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Wheeler “developed a pattern of Internet browsing for child pornography.”

“The sheer number of images” on two of Wheeler’s computers and a hard drive convinced the judge that the prohibited sex acts with children “didn’t inadvertently end up on a computer.”

Davis had earlier ruled against Wheeler’s bid to suppress the child porn evidence, arguing that the state police search exceeded its bounds when it searched for child porn.

Foley had argued that the search should have been limited to finding evidence Wheeler tried to tamper with or intimidate possible witnesses in alleged sexual assaults against two teenagers more than three decades ago and his adopted son, Nikolai, about a decade ago. Wheeler has not been charged with any sexual assaults or witness tampering.

Perna testified, however, that as soon as files were found that were suspected to contain images of child pornography, a new warrant was obtained that allowed such a search.

SOURCE: The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal
Chris Barrish

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