Sex Offending Ex-Swim Coach Steps Toward Freedom

Judge: Early Release 'Mockery' Of Sentence

Chris Wheat, a former Lawrence North swim coach who was convicted of two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor and one count of child solicitation, took his first steps toward freedom Friday morning.

Wheat arrived at Community Corrections, where he was prepped for release from prison after serving less than two years of an eight-year sentence. He then went to Brandon Hall, a halfway house.

Wheat will spend a year or two at a re-entry facility and will have a GPS monitoring bracelet on. The victim's family is upset over the early release, and the judge who sentenced him called the early release a "mockery" of the sentence.

The victim was 14 at the time of the abuse. Judge Carol Orbison said Thursday she knew Wheat would earn credit for good behavior, but she told RTV6's Kara Kenney that she didn't know he would be able to use college credits he earned in 1995 toward early release.

"It almost turns the sentence that was given into a mockery," Orbison said. "It makes no sense in my opinion."

The victim's family told Kenney they are struggling with Wheat's release and fear for their daughter's safety.

"Our family is outraged that this confessed child sex offender has satisfied an eight-year prison sentence with only 19 months served," the victim's family said in a statement. "Both the Indiana Department of Corrections and the Oakland City University should be ashamed for their roles in helping Christopher Wheat manipulate the system."

While Wheat was already a teacher, some of his credits were earned years before his conviction.

"Giving him two college degrees based on transfer credits from almost 20 years ago isn't right," the family said. "Why would they approve degrees in computer technology for a sex offender who is restricted from using computers and the Internet?"

Orbison called on the Indiana Department of Correction and state lawmakers to reform sentencing laws.

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville has joined Sens. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis and Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis in a call for a comprehensive look at the entire good credit system.

"Obviously, we've got some loopholes in the system," said Eberhart. "One of our priorities as a Legislature is to provide public safety. This is certainly not a good example of that."

Oakland City University officials told RTV6 that the acceptance of transfer credits was a "Department of Correction issue."

Mary Leffler, the community engagement director for Volunteers of America, which runs the halfway house where Wheat will be living, stressed that he is not a free man.

"I think it's important to know that no individual is moving without supervision and regulation," she said. "Consider it incarceration without bars. Their every activity in the community will be carefully regulated and tied to a case plan."

Wheat's attorney has not commented about the case.

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