When killer skipped prison date, family’s mourning turned to fear

A judge sentenced Kyle Wheeler for killing an Everett man, Charles Hatem, then freed him on a promise to report to prison.

Kyle Wheeler listens as he is convicted of second-degree manslaughter in Snpohomish County Superior Court on Aug. 12 in Everett. (Ellen Dennis / Herald file)

Kyle Wheeler listens as he is convicted of second-degree manslaughter in Snpohomish County Superior Court on Aug. 12 in Everett. (Ellen Dennis / Herald file)

EVERETT — It took three years for Kyle Wheeler to be tried and convicted of manslaughter in the death of Charles Hatem.

In late October, after he was sentenced to 2¼ years, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Karen Moore allowed Wheeler to go free if he agreed to report to prison in five days.

It was Moore’s first sentencing as a newly appointed judge. And it was a decision the deputy prosecutor called “not typical.”

Wheeler, 43, of Lynden, didn’t show up. It took another two days for a U.S. Marshals task force to track down Wheeler, who is now serving his time. But the case has shattered the trust that Hatem’s family had in the courts.

“It’s almost like Charlie was victimized over and over and over again through this whole process,” said Hatem’s longtime partner, Rachael Bowker, who has worked in advertising at The Daily Herald. “I always tried to have faith in the justice system, but I really just don’t anymore.”

Hatem, 52, of Everett, had been staying at the apartment of Wheeler’s father when he was killed. Wheeler believed Hatem was taking advantage of his dad by not paying rent, according to charging papers.

On Sept. 8, 2018, Wheeler confronted Hatem in an apartment at the Commerce Building at 1803 Hewitt Ave. Wheeler and Hatem had been drinking alcohol downtown leading up to the fight, according to trial testimony. The next morning, a neighbor found Hatem’s body in an upstairs hallway outside the apartment and called police.

An autopsy showed Hatem died of head trauma.

After many delays due to the pandemic and changing defense attorneys, a jury convicted Wheeler, 43, of second-degree manslaughter in August.

The defendant’s behavior at his sentencing was hostile, two members of Hatem’s family said. The family was disappointed, angry and fearful when the judge allowed Wheeler to walk free, especially in light of his behavior that day. Wheeler jawed at the victim’s family in the courtroom, Bowker said.

“He was turning and talking to me,” Bowker told The Herald in an interview. According to her, Wheeler was saying “everything I said was a lie, the stories in The Daily Herald — they were all lies. He had no remorse.”

Bowker was Hatem’s partner for 20 years. She’s the mother of their two sons. She was granted a protection order against Wheeler at the hearing.

Charles Hatem (Family photo)

Charles Hatem (Family photo)

The judge handed Wheeler a prison sentence within state guidelines, followed by 1½ years of probation. He was released on personal recognizance because his father was reportedly in poor health and he wanted to see him before his prison term.

Wheeler’s behavior prompted court marshals to escort Hatem’s family to their cars, Bowker said. The Everett woman said she was terrified while her partner’s killer was out of custody.

“It was uneasy,” Bowker said. “I was hearing sounds. My friends would have me text whenever I left the house or came back.”

When Wheeler skipped his booking date, some of Bowker’s friends encouraged her to leave town. Then she got an email Nov. 3, her birthday. Wheeler had been arrested, the email read.

Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson told The Herald he was surprised Wheeler was released.

“It’s not typical that someone facing prison is given a report date, especially given the type of charge he was convicted of,” Matheson said.

Matheson also noted the defendant treated “everyone in that courtroom with disrespect.”

“I think that’s fair to say,” Matheson said. “I thought the various family members of Mr. Hatem were respectful to the court and the process.”

Wheeler’s lead defense attorney, Emily Hiskes, did not respond to requests for comment.

Judge Moore did not return phone calls, either.

Matheson said the judge “took a chance” on Wheeler. The deputy prosecutor added that he thought Moore presided over the trial professionally.

“I don’t want to say anything to denigrate her at all,” Matheson said. “I thought she did a good job. This is all Wheeler.”

Hatem, a former standout baseball player at Central Washington University, will be remembered for his “charismatic personality, love of sports and absolute heart of gold,” his obituary reads.

His stepsister, Denise Novosel, travelled from Portland for the hearing in October. She said she hopes the family can finally begin healing.

“There’s a sense of relief knowing this part is over,” Novosel said. “But the lives of Rachael and her boys will be forever altered by what happened to Charlie.”

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; edennis@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterellen.

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