A 17-year-old juvenile who pleaded no contest last month to taking part in an armed home invasion robbery at a Berkeley County kennel last year was sentenced to 40 years in prison Thursday during a sentencing hearing in Berkeley County Circuit Court.
Ronald "Georgie" Whetzel Jr., who is currently incarcerated at a juvenile detention facility in Salem, W.Va., was sentenced by West Virginia 23rd Judicial Circuit Court Judge Gina Groh to a concurrent one- to 15-year prison sentence on a separate burglary charge related to the Dec. 9, 2010, armed robbery at Beck's Kennel in Inwood, which the victim of the robbery operates out of her residence.
Whetzel, who was indicted as an adult by a Berkeley County grand jury in May, previously pleaded no contest to the burglary charge and one count of first-degree robbery on Nov. 17 as part of a plea agreement that saw a third count of conspiracy dismissed.
Groh also ordered that Whetzel, who was just 16-years-old at the time of the robbery, pay $8,000 in restitution to the victim in the case.
A co-defendant in the case, 22-year-old Ian M. Derr, whose mailing address was listed in court records as P.O. Box 1152, Shepherdstown, was also indicted in May on the same charges as Whetzel. He formally accepted the terms of a proposed plea offer Monday and is scheduled to return to court Feb. 9 for a plea and sentencing hearing.
Whetzel was represented at Thursday's sentencing hearing by public defender John Lehman, who argued that his client should be sent to the Anthony Center, a correctional facility for youthful offenders. Those sent to the Anthony Center can remain incarcerated for six months to two years, during which time they are required to undergo a strenuous rehabilitation program. Those who successfully complete the program earn the right to be sentenced to probation.
"We have an opportunity to reform this man and make something out of his life," Lehman said. "... A place like the Anthony Center can do him a lot of good."
Thursday Lehman argued that there were reasons and circumstances why Whetzel was in the position he was in. Whetzel's father is currently serving a prison sentence for armed robbery, and his mother is serving a prison sentence for forgery and uttering-related offenses. Whetzel's upbringing was described as "disastrous," as his parents had severe issues with drug and alcohol abuse. Whetzel, the defense argued, was also subjected to physical abuse and a culture of criminality by those who surrounded him. Whetzel was ultimately removed from the home by the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
"We have an opportunity with a young man at this age to stop the cyle and break this chain," Lehman said.
Whetzel himself, who was bound in restraints, also made a brief statement to the court prior to sentencing.
"I'm really sorry for what I've done," Whetzel said. "It will never happen again. I just need this one chance to prove myself."
Before the sentence was pronounced, both Deborah Beckman, the victim in the case, and Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely addressed Groh. Beck read from a prepared victim impact statement.
"I think I will be forever impacted by this," she said.
The robbery, which occurred shortly after her husband's death, led to significant financial and emotional difficulties for Beckman throughout this past year and she said she is now afraid to be alone.
"I don't know if I'll ever be able to trust anyone like I did," she said.
Games-Neely argued that Whetzel should be sentenced to the penitentiary based on the severity of the crime.
"I have prosecuted his mother and his father and his his relatives," she said. "...I heard the same speech from his dad and I heard the same speech from his mother."
Not matter what the court did, she said it would never make Beckman feel safe again, and she argued it was unlikely Whetzel would ever be able to pay back the restitution ordered by the court.
"This isn't about haves and have nots. I'm sorry for the way he grew up," Games-Neely said. "...Georgie made a choice. He made a choice when he walked into that home with a gun in his hand."
When it came time for Groh to pronounce her sentence, she said the court was not unsympathetic to Whetzel or his upbringing, but said the court's primary concern in the case was public safety and not Whetzel's family "track record."
"What the court finds significant, despite his age and despite his upbringing, is...the fact that he made a choice to rob with a handgun folks that were known to him. He started his adult criminal record at the very top with first-degree robbery," Groh said.