Franklin man held for court in sex assault case

A Franklin man accused of attempting to sexually assault a boy was held for court Wednesday after a preliminary hearing in Venango County Central Court.

Nathaniel Matthew Wheeler, 18, is charged with a felony count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a person less than 16 years of age. He is also charged with misdemeanor counts of indecent exposure and indecent assault with a person less than 13 years of age.

In a hearing before district judge Patrick Lowrey, assistant district attorney Justin Fleeger questioned Franklin police officer Bradley Barnhill regarding the incident.

Barnhill said he was called to a residence March 30 and spoke with family members of the reported victim. The family members said Wheeler had been staying at Pathways Adolescent Center in Oil City and was on a home pass when the incident occurred March 26.

Barnhill said the boy told family members what Wheeler said and did when the two were alone in the boy’s bedroom. Barnhill said he believed the report to be credible as he was told Wheeler had been there other times on home passes and no other allegations had ever been made by the boy in the past.

The boy said Wheeler had taken his cell phone and placed it in his underwear, asking the boy to retrieve it. When the boy refused, Wheeler asked the juvenile to touch himself and become involved in several sexual actions, all of which the boy refused, Barnhill said.

The boy said Wheeler eventually exposed himself and touched himself in a sexual manner in front of the child, Barnhill said.

Barnhill interviewed Wheeler on March 31 about the incident, and Barnhill said Wheeler initially denied the allegations but later admitted to all of them, including writing them in a written statement.

When Barnhill asked him why he made the requests and exposed himself, Wheeler said he had been speaking with a female for a couple of weeks before the incident. Wheeler had planned to have sex with the female when he was out on a pass, but that never happened.

He said he needed to relieve his stress and sexual urges, so that is why he solicited the boy, according to Barnhill’s testimony.

Public defender Matthew Parsons represented Wheeler and asked Barnhill during cross-examination to confirm exactly when the incident occurred. He also asked Barnhill to confirm Wheeler’s date of birth, which was March 28, 1998, making the incident two days prior to Wheeler’s 18th birthday.

Lowrey ordered Wheeler held for court after the hearing.