The count of involuntary manslaughter the jury found him guilty of was arrested because a defendant can only be convicted of the higher class of felony.
The jury found itself hopelessly deadlocked on a third count against the 29-year-old Whitmore, its foreman confirmed to Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Cy A. Grant of Hertford County.
Two jurors outside the courthouse following the proceedings declined comment.
Apology and judge’s lecture
Before sentencing Whitmore addressed the court, saying, “I apologize to the family. I’m sorry it happened. I was just trying to save my life. I had never been shot before.”
Whitmore was shot after he got into an argument with Jacobi Harvey at a Roanoke Rapids barbershop and then fled, traveling at a high rate of speed down East Tenth Street where he crashed into the vehicle Fishel was driving.
Grant gave Whitmore a stern lecture. “It appears to me you weren’t concerned for anybody’s life except your life.”
Replied Whitmore: “I was out of my mind. I lost consciousness.”
Said the judge: “I don’t buy that. That’s just lawyer talk.”
Grant told Whitmore the reason his lawyers didn’t call him to stand was because “they didn’t want the jury to hear how bad of a criminal you are. This is what you can expect to happen.”
The judge told Whitmore he was the one who provoked Harvey. “You’ve had run-ins with him before. When you go for bad this is what happens.”
Grant then sentenced Whitmore to 129 to 166 months for the crime of felony death by motor vehicle.
District Attorney Valerie Asbell said in a statement, “I am glad the criminal portion of this ordeal is over for the family of Leslie Fishel and the other victims of this terrible crash. I know the emotional toil these trials take on the families and I appreciate so many family members and friends being in the courtroom during this difficult time. We certainly respect the jury’s decision and for their willingness to serve in this capacity. We will continue to pray for the families affected by this tragedy.”
Asbell said she was grateful for the of assistant district attorneys Keith Werner and Kim Scott in the case. “I want to commend the Roanoke Rapids Police Department for a job well done in the investigation of this case. I also want to thank the North Carolina State Highway Patrol Reconstruction Unit for assisting to establish the speed and other factors that caused the crash. Working together, these two departments did an excellent and thorough investigation.”
Asbell said she will continue to prosecute these vehicular homicide cases to the fullest extent of the law. “These are horrible cases with horrific consequences because of the reckless disregard people like Mr. Whitmore have for the lives of others.
“When you compound the reckless disregard with drugs and alcohol, it is senseless. A young woman lost her life because of decisions intentionally made by this defendant to drive a vehicle in a reckless manner and with impairing substances in his system.”
Said Asbell: “We should, as a community, be able to drive on the roads and feel safe. This active sentence of 10 to 13 years that Whitmore received in this case and this jury verdict shows that our citizens have had enough and that they will hold people who drive in this fashion accountable for their actions.”
Fishel’s stepfather, Ray Rook, said following the proceedings, “If it were life it still wouldn’t have brought my stepdaughter back.”
Fishel’s mother, Pat Coons, said, “I’m pleased with the results and when it all comes to the end of the day God has the final say so in judging this, not us here on earth.”
As the jury deliberated this morning, Coons went over to talk with Whitmore’s mother. “I felt led to tell her I don’t hold anything with her what her son did. I don’t hate him, that it was the lifestyle he has chose and there is help out there, that Leslie’s gotten help before, our church supports people that need help and can reach out to a new Launchpad in Wilmington. I told her that I hold nothing against her. I didn’t hate her, never knew her and that her son, it’s the choices that he made, the choices of the individuals he chose to hang out with is what created this whole problem.”
Coons said she was in “110 percent” agreement with what Grant told Whitmore from the stand.
As far as closure, Coons said, “The closure I got was after I was able to testify in front of people and the jurors. I felt a peace from that sense on about this.”
She said she still terribly misses her daughter. “We worked side by side. She was my child. She was my little clone.”
Whitmore on Monday ended up opting to stand trial in the case rather than accepting a plea deal.
His attorney,Tyrell Clemons of Greenville, said afterward, “Technically, the plea offer he had would have been a little more. It was a gamble he took and I understand why he took the gamble. He didn’t make a crazy decision and when your life's on the line and you realize you are guaranteed to go to prison sometimes people will take the chance, especially when they think the situation occurred because of a mistake, because of an accident. I understand why he did what he did.”
Asked whether Whitmore, who has an extensive criminal record, might learn something from his latest court appearance, Clemons said, “The unfortunate reality with these cases and with this situation is when a person who has a history of committing crimes has a situation in which they didn’t really do anything as they have in the past, the things he’s been accused of were intentional acts.
“I think this one was more so of an unintentional act compared to his prior offenses. I think this was one he doesn’t understand as much, but I tell people all the time that sometimes — I don’t want to say you reap what you sow — but if you have a history of doing things sometimes the things that are not as intended will have a much more harsh consequence and I think that is what he is kind of learning right now.
“He’s learning from the fact right now his past will catch up with you and I think that’s the reality he has right now — the things he’s done in the past are definitely catching up with him.”
Clemons said he believed the jury understood this was not an intentional act. “I think the verdict speaks to the fact they don’t think it was intentional. The death itself was not an intentional act but I think they’re leaving a message that despite the fact you didn’t intend it that when someone dies there has to be something for punishment. I think the verdict reflected there had to be some type of punishment and that’s kind of where we are.”