August 13, 2018 at 3:01 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Virginia man arrested for 2017 murder of gay activist
Bruce Garnett, gay news, Washington Blade

James M. Wheeler was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Bruce Garnett, who was stabbed to death in 2017. (Photo courtesy Chesterfield County Police)

Police in Chesterfield County, Va., on Aug. 6 arrested a 56-year-old Virginia man for the April 2017 murder of longtime Virginia gay activist Bruce Garnett, 67, who was found stabbed to death in his apartment in a section of Chesterfield near Richmond.

Police charged James M. Wheeler, a resident of the town of Stuarts Draft near Staunton, Va., with second-degree murder in connection with Garnett’s death after he confessed to the murder, according to Maj. Edward Carpenter of the Chesterfield Police Investigations Bureau.

“I can tell you that we received information that the suspect pretty much confessed to an independent party about his involvement in the case,” Carpenter told the Washington Blade.

“And based on that we were able to do some corroboration and coordination, and a search warrant was executed on a residence in Augusta County, Va.,” which was where Wheeler lived in Stuarts Draft, Carpenter said. According to Carpenter, Wheeler agreed to voluntarily go with Chesterfield detectives to the Augusta County police station for an interview.

“After several hours of interviewing he confessed to stabbing Mr. Garnett to death,” said Carpenter, who added that Wheeler confirmed he and Garnett had been friends and were in some type of relationship. “They had a friendship that lasted for an extended period of time,” said Carpenter, noting that Wheeler didn’t describe him and Garnett as a couple.

“That wasn’t said in the confession,” he said. “But the bottom line is they did have a relationship.”

Carpenter said Wheeler was being held without bond at the Middle River Regional Jail in Staunton while extradition arrangements were being made to transfer him to Chesterfield, where he will be prosecuted in Chesterfield County Circuit Court.

Garnett’s brother, Bill Garnett, told the Richmond Times Dispatch that his brother was an early pioneer for gay rights in Virginia and helped form the Gay Rights Association in Richmond in the 1970s. In 1978 Bruce Garnett became the first known registered lobbyist for LGBT related issues before the Virginia General Assembly, his brother told the Times Dispatch.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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