INDIANAPOLIS – A state senator wants to close a loophole that a convicted sex offender exploited to get out of prison much earlier than scheduled.
Chris Wheat is a former swim coach convicted of sexually abusing a teenage. Fox59 News broke this story, and the information uncovered during our investigation shed light on legislation that lawmakers say needs to be changed.
Wheat was sentenced to eight years in prison. Just 19 months later, he’s out—something that doesn’t sit well with the victim’s father.
“It is very concerning to me that he is going to be back in society again far sooner than he should be,” said the victim’s father.
Wheat, the former Lawrence North Swim Club coach, was convicted of sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old member of the team.
“The entire time he was in there all he was doing was working to game the system to get out early,” said the victim’s father. “This person is going to be back in society before we know it and he should still be in prison.”
How did Wheat manage to serve only a fraction of his sentence?
As soon as the bars closed behind him, Wheat went back to school, earning a degree that under current Indiana law shortened his prison stay. Wheat was also able to apply a bachelor’s degree from about two decades earlier, to make it even shorter.
“Mr. Wheat’s playing the system cannot stand,” said State Senator Jim Merritt. “We cannot have that again.”
Now, Merritt has written Senate Bill 260 to close such loopholes.
- Sex offenders could not shorten their sentences by earning bachelor’s or associate degrees.
- No offender can serve less time based on degrees earned before going behind bars.
- Educational credit earned by a sexual, or violent offender is subtracted from the entire sentence, not the earliest possible release date.
Chris Wheat was sentenced to eight years. With good behavior, it became four. Wheat’s prior bachelor’s degree subtracted another two years, and an associate degree he earned in prison erased another year. When taken together, Wheat’s sentence was reduced to 19 months.
“We want all offenders to try and educate themselves in incarceration, but we want to treat the credits and the good time credits toward getting out differently,” said Merritt.
“What happened here I have a major problem with,” said the victim’s father, who added that Wheat’s actions changed his daughter and family forever.
He only hopes tougher laws will prevent the next Chris Wheat from cheating the system.
“Our society has to tell them that, ‘You are going to pay the price.’ If we do not send that message, we lose the ability for that to be a deterrent for other people out there considering that same type of behavior,” he told Fox59.