Bret Michael Wheeler was sentenced to life in prison with all but 40 years suspended after he was convicted of first-degree murder and four other counts in the death of Kandi Gerber.
Gerber’s family packed the courtroom for the sentencing, which took place on what would have been Gerber’s 37th birthday.
Judge Barry Hughes also handed down an identical sentence of life with all but 40 years suspended, to be served concurrently, for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
With credit for the time served since he was incarcerated in August 2016, he will first be eligible for parole in approximately 18½ years, at age 45. According to Maryland Code, an inmate convicted of a violent crime is eligible for parole after half of the sentence has been served.
Following release, Wheeler will be subject to five years supervised probation with the special condition that he is to have no contact with Gerber’s family.
Christie Gerber, Gerber’s sister, said the sentence was not quite what her family had wanted going into the hearing.
“We hoped for more,” she said.
The family has been through two trial processes following the murder. Wheeler was convicted as a co-conspirator and accessory to Robert Theodore Bosley, who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on Dec. 5.
This second sentencing does not feel like an end to the process, Christie Gerber said.
“This never goes away. [Wheeler and Bosley] have the chance to appeal again and again,” she said.
In considering the sentence, Hughes said he took into account his unique position of hearing all of the evidence from both trials. Though Wheeler and Bosley were convicted of the same crimes, he said there was an objective difference in their actions. Evidence showed that Bosley was the one who assaulted Kandi Gerber and cut her throat. Hughes said that without Wheeler serving as “lookout,” he harbored doubts whether Bosley would have gone through with the murder.
He said the court could not impose a sentence for Wheeler’s moral failure in failing to stop the murder, but only as far as those translated to violations of the law.
In sentencing, he also considered Wheeler’s age, his “relatively minor prior record” and the testimony of a witness who said the actions on the night of the murder were out of character for Wheeler.
Eric Offutt, Wheeler’s attorney, said the defense agreed with the court’s decision to take into account the difference in Wheeler’s and Bosley’s actions while sentencing.
“[It was] a result that we think was fair given the verdict,” he said.
The state requested a life sentence during arguments.
Prior to sentencing, Christie Gerber and other members of Kandi Gerber’s family — including her daughter, father, mother and stepfather — delivered victim impact statements.
Christie Gerber spoke of her family’s pain from being deprived of her sister, and said it has been like waking up to a nightmare for the past 17 months and 10 days.
“I pray no one in this world goes through something like this,” she said.
Circuit Court Chief attorney Allan Culver read the statements for the other family members who spoke about the difficulty of being without Gerber on her birthday and every day. Several members of the family said they do not sleep well and suffer from nightmares. They were forced to purchase a security system because her daughter and mother feel unsafe.
“The man she loved and who could have saved her chose not to,” Christie Gerber told Hughes.
Wheeler also used his right to allocution to address the court.
“I was just looking forward to the process of appeal, your honor,” he said.
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At the beginning of Thursday’s proceedings, the court heard and denied a second motion for a new trial presented by the defense.