WILMINGTON, Delaware — The former headmaster of an elite Delaware prep school founded by members of the du Pont family was sentenced Friday to 50 years in prison for dealing in child pornography.
Christopher Wheeler showed no emotion and declined to speak. His attorney plans to appeal.
Wheeler, 55, waived his right to a jury trial last year after a judge denied a defense motion to suppress evidence seized during a search of his home and office at Tower Hill School, whose graduates include DuPont Co. CEO Ellen Kullman, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and television personality Dr. Oz.
Wheeler was convicted by Judge Eric Davis in December after rejecting a plea bargain under which he could have received as little as four years behind bars.
While limiting his sentencing to the mandatory minimum of two years on each of 25 counts, Davis told Wheeler he had betrayed the public trust and shown a lack of remorse.
"It's just so wrong," Davis said. "You should not have placed yourself in the position ... where temptation faces you every morning as you shake hands with children."
Davis denied a defense motion to have the sentences run concurrently.
Defense attorney Thomas Foley argued that the mandatory sentencing for dealing in child pornography was draconian and disproportionate compared with other cases.
"It's obscene. It's outrageous," he said.
Foley also argued that law that does not require actual dissemination of child pornography in order to be convicted of dealing in it. Instead, he suggested, simply clicking on an image online could get somebody two years behind bars for dealing, whether it's a child predator or simply a socially awkward teenager.
Prosecutor Abigail Layton noted that Wheeler's sentence works out to about nine days for each of the 2,000 images of child exploitation.
"In those pictures, kids are being raped and violated, and it's captured on film for the rest of their lives," Layton said after the hearing.
Tower Hill officials released a statement saying none of Wheeler's conduct that was the subject of the case involved students at the school.
An accomplished musician and composer who flew his own airplane, Wheeler was hired at Tower Hill in 2004 after 14 years at Lake Forest Academy near Chicago, where he was assistant headmaster and wrestling coach. He previously worked at St. Paul's School in Garden City, New York.
Tower Hill officials have said Wheeler was extensively vetted before being hired, but court records suggest he hid a darker side.
In a letter to a Pennsylvania man who asked him about making amends for alleged child sexual abuse, Wheeler wrote: "I did those things. I am the one responsible."
Wheeler has never been charged with sexually abusing anyone, despite allegations leveled by the Pennsylvania man and his younger brother, who came forward in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University. Wheeler's own adopted son also has accused him of abuse.
Prompted by those allegations, Delaware investigators searched Wheeler's home and office and found child pornography.
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