As he popped Xanax and plotted a night of “hitting licks” — robbing drug dealers — Tyler Lee Wheeler foresaw a special role for a 12-gauge shotgun he kept loaded with birdshot, authorities say.
“I think I’m going to have to use this tonight,” Wheeler allegedly told a crew of accomplices in a room at the Best Inn, 3920 N. Nevada Ave.
Hours later and miles away, those words proved true, authorities say, when the one-time Fort Carson soldier delivered shotgun blasts at Kenyatta Horne during an Oct. 7 gunbattle in Security-Widefield over $800 worth of cocaine.
“It all kind of tumbled pretty quickly,” El Paso County sheriff’s detective Karl Mai testified at a preliminary hearing in 4th Judicial District Court on Thursday, describing how Wheeler and a second man opened fire in the street after Horne, 20, drew a pistol.
More than 20 shell casings hit the ground in the shootout that followed.
During the exchange, Horne fired nine rounds and was hit in the chest, collapsing outside his home at 6410 Tranters Creek Way in the Lorson Ranch subdivision. An autopsy determined his wounds were from a single blast of birdshot.
In laying out their case for a judge, investigators described a deadly robbery spree allegedly involving Wheeler, 20, and at least four accomplices, three of them current or former members of the military.
Wayne Sellers, 21, described as a former Army buddy of Wheeler, is accused of firing a .40-caliber pistol 11 times during the botched heist, emptying his magazine but missing with each round; Kyle Robert Watts, 19, an active-duty Air Force chef at F.E Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo., is accused of serving as the driver; and Beslim Torres Valle, 19, who grew up near Horne, allegedly supplied his name as a potential target and arranged a phony drug deal to set him up.
A fifth man, as yet unidentified, also was present during the killing, according to at least two people who were there.
No drugs were found on Horne’s body, though his empty pistol lay within reach.
Detectives said the same crew was involved in an earlier robbery outside a 7-Eleven near Powers and Dublin boulevards.
In that case, authorities said, a dealer agreed to sell the men a sheet of LSD but was instead robbed of his backpack and left uninjured.
An early break in the investigation came two days later, when Wheeler’s mother called a sheriff’s detective to report that her son had claimed he and Sellers were responsible, but that they fired in self-defense.
Many of the allegations aired in court came from interrogations of Sellers, Watts and Torres Valle, who all implicated Wheeler as the driving force.
Representing Wheeler, public defender Rose Roy argued that Horne’s fatal wound — a shotgun blast to his upper chest and right arm — would have incapacitated him, suggesting he fired first. She said that her client became the fall guy because he was the first person arrested — giving co-defendants a path to minimize their involvement.
Prosecutor Reggy Short argued that Torres Valle’s claim that Wheeler predicted using his shotgun that night showed he was ready for violence.
After the killing, Wheeler made a comment about getting a second teardrop tattoo, suggesting he has been involved in an earlier killing, authorities said. He has no prior convictions.
Judge Theresa Cisneros ruled that evidence was sufficient to bind over all four men on suspicion of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery and other counts. All will be held without bond in the El Paso County jail pending trial.
Arraignments are scheduled for Feb. 25.
Wheeler served in the 4th Infantry Division from August 2016 to April 2018 and didn’t deploy, Army records show. It’s unclear what led to his separation. Fort Carson spokeswoman Brandy Gill said she had no evidence that Sellers was stationed at the post.
Watts, the Air Force chef, is a 2017 graduate of Lewis-Palmer High School who also played on the football team for three years, his attorney said.
Gazette reporter Liz Forster contributed to this report.