A Manchester man was sentenced yesterday to five years in prison in the beating death of the drunken ex-husband of his girlfriend last summer.
Gary B. Wheeler, 35, was convicted in February after pleading not guilty in the manslaughter death of Fred Douglas Tipton, 36, of Hampstead. Wheeler did not contest the statement of the facts against him.
The victim, whose blood-alcohol content registered 0.23 -- more than twice Maryland's legal limit of 0.10 -- was found slumped over the wheel of his parked car at Maiden Lane and Westminster Street in Manchester about 6 p.m. July 6. He was pronounced dead about two hours later at Carroll County General Hospital.
Witnesses to the incident told police that Wheeler left after saying, "Leave him alone. He is just a drunk."
Wheeler initially was arrested on an assault charge and was later charged with manslaughter after a state medical examiner ruled that the victim had died as a result of three to four blows to the head.
Those punches were thrown by Wheeler through the driver's window as the victim sat in his car, said prosecutor David P. Daggett, an assistant state's attorney.
Daggett asked Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. to impose a prison term "on the high end" of the state's sentencing guidelines, from six to 10 years.
Members of the victim's family, including the victim's eldest brother, Jerry, testified on the impact Tipton's death had on their lives. Turning to Wheeler, he said, "He was just a drunk, maybe to you, but he was my baby brother."
Given the opportunity to address the court, Wheeler turned to the victim's family and burst into tears. "I'm really sorry," he sobbed. "I never meant to hurt him. All I wanted was for him to leave us alone."
Burns imposed a 10-year sentence, but suspended five years and placed Wheeler on five years' probation after his release, with the condition that the defendant drink no alcohol during the probationary period.
"Alcohol played a major role in this incident," Burns told Wheeler's attorney, Gary B. Weisgerber of Westminster.
"Your client has had past problems with alcohol. I want it made clear that he is to remain totally abstinent for the entire five years [of probation]."
Wheeler had not been drinking the evening he confronted the victim over domestic problems between Wheeler's girlfriend and her former husband, Daggett said, but he had a previous alcohol-related driving conviction.