A Virginia man was sentenced on Dec. 14 to 15 years in prison for the murder of longtime Virginia gay activist Bruce Garnett, 67, who was found stabbed to death in his apartment in Chesterfield County near Richmond in April 2017.
Chesterfield Circuit Court Judge David E. Johnson sentenced James M. Wheeler, 56, to 40 years in a state penitentiary then suspended 25 years, requiring that Wheeler serve 15 years. The judge also sentenced Wheeler to “indefinite” probation upon his release from prison.
The sentencing came after Wheeler pleaded guilty to a charge of second degree murder as part of a plea agreement. He had been charged with that same offense of second degree murder at the time of his arrest on Aug. 6, 2018.
At the Dec. 14 sentencing hearing Chesterfield County Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Melissa Hoy told the court that Wheeler and Garnett had been friends for 20 years and Wheeler acknowledged having a sexual relationship with Garnett, the Richmond Times Dispatch reported. Moy said the two men lived together for a short time in 2006, according to the Times Dispatch.
The newspaper reported that Wheeler’s attorney, Wayne Morgan, pointed out that Wheeler told authorities after confessing he fatally stabbed Garnett that the stabbing took place while the two men were fighting and that he was defending himself against Garnett, who he claimed was the aggressor.
“My client is remorseful, as he stated in court, and never intended for this to happen,” the Times Dispatch quoted the attorney as saying.
Garnett has been credited with playing a lead role in lobbying the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond for LGBT rights beginning in the 1970s. He became the first registered lobbyist for gay rights before the General Assembly and continued his work on LGBT rights for many years.