LUMBERTON — Robeson County’s longest pending murder case came to a close on Tuesday — 19 years after the victim, a 24-year-old student at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, was killed.
Dane Locklear Jr., 45, pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder in the death of Cynthia Wheeler, of Plymouth, who was a reported missing on June 23, 1997. Wheeler’s body was found in woods off of N.C. 710 about five months after she disappeared.
Locklear was sentenced Tuesday to a minimum of 26 years, 10 months in prison and a maximum of 32 years and 10 months in prison, to be completed after a life sentence he is currently serving for killing Frances Persad in Red Springs 16 years ago.
Locklear was charged with Wheeler’s murder in April 1998, but the charge was dropped four months later after a key witness recanted his statements implicating Locklear.
In 2000, while awaiting trial for Persad’s murder, Locklear confessed to State Bureau of Investigation agents that he had killed both Persad and Wheeler, and a videotape of that confession was shown during the 2005 trial in which he was sentenced to death for Persad’s murder. He was later re-sentenced to life in prison.
Locklear told the jury in 2005 that Wheeler, after going to his home to buy marijuana, agreed to have sex with him, but threatened to accuse him of rape when she found out he did not have a condom. He then beat her and choked her before driving her body to where hunters found it months later.
After Locklear was convicted of killing Persad, the Wheeler case stalled — Locklear appealed his conviction, was ordered by the state to receive a new sentence, rejected a 2010 plea deal and switched lawyers several times.
The Wheeler case was revived in 2014 when Locklear’s lawyers filed a motion asking Robeson County Superior Court Judge Frank Floyd not to allow the confession Locklear gave in 2000 to be used in court when he is tried for Wheeler’s death. Locklear was told in July that motion had been denied, and a plea deal was reached.
For more on this story, see The Robesonian’s Thursday print edition and also find an updated story at robesonian.com.