Sarah Butler (Elaine Wynn via GoFundMe)

By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

Khalil Wheeler-Weaver — the 25-year-old man convicted of using dating apps to lure and kill three women, including a college student from Montclair — has been sentenced to 160 years in state prison.

In late 2019, a jury took less than three hours to convict Wheeler-Weaver of three counts of murder in the deaths of Sarah Butler, 20, Robin West, 19, and Joanne Brown, 33, the prosecutor’s office said at the time. The women were killed in separate incidents in late 2016, authorities say.

Wheeler-Weaver was also convicted of kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault, desecration of human remains, aggravated arson and the attempted murder of a 34-year-old woman, Tiffany Taylor, who survived his attack.

Superior Court Judge Mark Ali handed down the 160-year sentence on Wednesday, Oct. 6. Under the No Early Release Act, Wheeler-Weaver must serve 145 years before he is eligible for parole, acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II said.  

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“The sentence today [Oct. 6] sends a clear and unequivocal message that each of these young women mattered,” Stephens said in a press release from his office. “This defendant mistakenly believed that he could kill them and dump their bodies, and no one would care. He miscalculated.  The jury made it clear with its verdict when it convicted Wheeler-Weaver on every count. And today the judge, with his sentence, made it clear that each of these women would receive justice.” 

Butler, a Montclair resident who was attending Jersey City University, was murdered on Nov. 22, 2016, the day before Thanksgiving. Her body was found in Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange on Dec. 1, 2016.

Brown, of Newark, was murdered on Oct.  22, 2016. Her body was found in a vacant home in Orange on Dec. 5, 2016. West, a native of Philadelphia who was living in Union Township, was murdered on Sept. 1, 2016 in Orange. Wheeler-Weaver set fire to her body and then torched the vacant home, prosecutors say.

Just days before Butler’s death, Wheeler-Weaver had used his phone to search for information on date-rape drugs, NorthJersey.com reported in 2019, citing testimony and evidence presented in his trial. He then sent a text message to Butler, offering her $500 for sex, the report says.

She replied, according to the report: “Wow. You’re not a serial killer, right?”

At the trial, prosecutors described how Wheeler-Weaver sought out information on creating drugs to knock people unconscious, using household cleaners to make poisons, and deleting evidence of his online searches, according to multiple reports.

A GoFundMe campaign formed in December 2016 to support Butler’s family recounts how for two weeks, friends, family and community members searched in and around Montclair for Butler.

“We have lost a beloved member of our family and there are no words for the pain and sorrow that we feel,” organizer Elaine Wynn wrote. “Sarah was a happy, caring and kind young lady who was adored by her family and friends. A freshman in college, Sarah loved to dance and was a lifeguard for the YMCA. Sarah shined a light on this world that we will never be able to replicate or replace.”

The prosecutor’s office had credited friends of Butler for helping catch Wheeler-Weaver, the AP reports. The friends set up a fake social media account, lured Wheeler-Weaver to a meeting in Montclair and notified law enforcement, it says.

“I am grateful to Ms. Taylor, and the families and friends of Joanne Brown, Sarah Butler and Robin West for the grace and strength they showed throughout this horrendous ordeal,”

Assistant Prosecutor Adam B. Wells, who tried the case with Assistant Prosecutor Mira T. Ohm, said in the press release from the prosecutor’s office. “I hope that today’s sentencing, and the promise that the defendant will be incarcerated for the rest of his life, can allow them to close this chapter and move forward honoring those who are not able to do so themselves.”

Taylor, who survived a fourth attack, told Judge Mark S. Ali at the sentencing, “I hope you don’t show him any remorse, because he’s not showing any remorse,” the Associated Press reported.

In the release, Stephens thanked Taylor and “the friends and families of the other victims who played a pivotal role in the case.”

— Includes additional reporting by Jaimie Julia Winters