Suspect in slaying of Lexington high school football player turns himself in

jkegley@herald-leader.comMay 24, 2013 

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  • Can you help?

    Anyone with information about Ernest Wheeler III is asked to call Lexington police at (859) 258-3600, or the robbery-homicide unit at (859) 258-3700.

    Anonymous tips can be submitted to Bluegrass Crime Stoppers by calling (859) 253-2020; texting "tips2020" plus your message to CRIMES (274637) or online at www.bluegrasscrimestoppers.com.

A man accused of killing a popular high school football player turned himself in to police Friday about eight hours after investigators named him as a suspect and four hours after his name and photo were released to media outlets.

Lexington police detectives were interviewing Ernest Wheeler III, 20, after he turned himself in about 8 p.m., police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said.

Earlier Friday, investigators charged Wheeler with murder in the death of Patrick Puckett, 18, who was shot in the torso Wednesday night at an apartment building on Ryan Circle. Police obtained the murder warrant shortly after noon Friday.

About 4 p.m., the police department released a photo of Wheeler taken from his Facebook page and asked anyone with information on his whereabouts to come forward.

Meanwhile, about 250 people gathered at Castlewood Park Friday evening to honor Puckett.

The vigil began about 6 p.m. Five uniformed officers silently stood watch at the park while Puckett's friends and family members prayed, shared memories and released balloons.

Police Lt. Dean Marcum said police were there because of an "uncorroborated" dispute on Facebook between students at Henry Clay, where both Puckett and Wheeler had attended.

Marcum said he didn't know much about the dispute except it was reportedly related to the killing. He said police didn't think there was a legitimate threat to anyone's safety.

"But we thought it would be better to be safe than sorry," he said.

It remained a mystery Friday what led to the killing. Police did not reveal a motive, and the student's family has said that Puckett had gone to visit friends Wednesday, and that they do not know what he was doing at the Ryan Circle apartment building.

Neighbors reported hearing a fight at the apartment before finding Puckett unresponsive in a common area. The shooter was gone when police arrived.

Those who spoke at Friday's vigil focused not on the killing, but on Puckett's accomplishments and how he "touched the lives of those who knew him."

Puckett was "a good-natured kid, who didn't deserve to die that way," said Adarrell Owsley, one of Puckett's former basketball coaches and a family friend.

Puckett played high school and amateur league basketball, but he was best known for his prowess on the football field. He was a starting linebacker for Bryan Station and had transferred to Henry Clay High School in the spring.

Puckett's sister, Jasmine Puckett, said the family does not know how Wheeler and her brother knew each other, or whether they had any previous contact.

Isaiah Barnes, one of Patrick Puckett's close friends, said Friday that Puckett and Wheeler probably knew each other from school, but he didn't think they were close — Puckett knew everybody, he said.

"If you were cool with him, he was cool with you," Barnes said.

According to Wheeler's Facebook page, which had not been updated since Wednesday, Wheeler had attended Bryan Station High School and Henry Clay High School.

Wheeler's Facebook page, which displayed pictures of him apparently making gang-related hand gestures, also said he had attended Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

Roberts said she could not go into detail about how police linked Wheeler to the shooting. She said detectives spent the last couple of days talking to witnesses and following leads.

"Today, we were able to develop enough evidence and probable cause to obtain the warrant, which we did ... shortly after noon," she said.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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