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

EVERETT – It was three years before Kyle Wheeler was tried and convicted of manslaughter in the death of Charles Hatem.

In late October, after he was sentenced to two and a quarter years in prison, Snohomish District Court judge Karen Moore allowed Wheeler to be released if he agreed to report to prison within five days.

It was Moore’s first conviction as a newly appointed judge. And it was a decision the assistant prosecutor described as “not typical”.

Wheeler, 43, from Lynden, did not show up. It took another two days for a task force to locate the US Marshals Wheeler, who is now serving his time. But the case has shaken Hatem’s family’s confidence in the courts.

“It’s almost like Charlie fell victim to over and over again throughout this process,” said Hatem’s longtime partner, Rachael Bowker, who worked in advertising for The Daily Herald. “I’ve always tried to trust the justice system, but I really don’t anymore.”

Hatem, 52, of Everett, was living at Wheeler’s father’s apartment when he was killed. Wheeler believed Hatem was taking advantage of his father by not paying rent, according to fee papers.

On September 8, 2018, Wheeler confronted Hatem in an apartment in the Commerce Building on 1803 Hewitt Ave. According to witness statements, Wheeler and Hatem had been drinking alcohol prior to the bout downtown. The next morning, a neighbor found Hatem’s body in an upstairs hallway outside the apartment and called the police.

An autopsy revealed that Hatem died of head trauma.

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

The defendant’s conduct when convicted was hostile, said two members of Hatem’s family. The family were disappointed, angry, and fearful when the Judge let Wheeler free, especially given his behavior that day. Wheeler berated the victim’s family in the courtroom, Bowker said.

“He turned and spoke to me,” Bowker told the Herald in an interview. According to her, Wheeler said, “Everything I said was a lie, the stories in the Daily Herald – they were all lies. He had no regrets. ”

Bowker was a Hatem partner for 20 years. She is the mother of her two sons. At the hearing, she was given a protection order against Wheeler.

Charles Hatem (family photo)

The judge sentenced Wheeler to prison, followed by 1½ years probation, under state guidelines. He was released in person because his father was reportedly in poor health and he wanted to see him before he was sent to prison.

Wheeler’s behavior prompted bailiffs to escort Hatem’s family to their cars, Bowker said. The Everett woman said she was scared when her partner’s killer was out of custody.

“It was restless,” said Bowker. “I heard noises. My friends always wanted to text me when I left the house or when I came back. ”

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

Snohomish County’s assistant prosecutor Craig Matheson told The Herald that he was surprised that Wheeler was released.

“It is not typical for someone facing jail time to be given a report date, especially given the type of charge for which they were convicted,” Matheson said.

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

“I think that’s fair to say,” said Matheson. “I thought Mr. Hatem’s various family members respected the court and the trial.”

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

Judge Moore also didn’t answer phone calls.

Matheson said the judge “dared” Wheeler. The assistant prosecutor added that he believed Moore was leading the process professionally.

“I don’t want to say anything to denigrate them,” said Matheson. “I thought she did a good job. That’s all Wheeler. ”

Hatem, a former eminent baseball player at Central Washington University, will be remembered for “his charismatic personality, love of the sport, and absolute heart of gold,” according to his obituary.

His stepsister Denise Novosel had traveled from Portland for the hearing in October. She said she hoped the family could finally begin the healing.

“It’s a sense of relief to know that this part is over,” said Novosel. “But Rachael and her boys’ lives are forever changed by what happened to Charlie.”

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; [email protected]; Twitter: @reporterellen.