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Ronald Whitfield, Jr., didn't flinch as Lucas County Common Pleas Judge James Bates sentenced him yesterday for the murder of Misada Shalan during the robbery of a North Toledo carryout.
Whitfield, 19, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years for aggravated murder in the Jan. 10 death of Mrs. Shalan, 47, at Tamara's Carryout, 327 Columbus St. He also was sentenced to nine years for aggravated robbery and three years for use of a gun.
Whitfield, who previously pleaded guilty to the charges, was spared the possibility of facing the death penalty. As a condition of his plea agreement, however, Whitfield will serve the three terms of his sentence consecutively, which means he must serve at least 32 years before he can be considered for parole.
In addition, county prosecutors expect Whitfield to testify against two accomplices for their alleged roles in the crime. Only one, Yvan Garcia, has been publicly identified and charged, but he has not been found.
During the sentencing hearing, Judge Bates spent several minutes commenting about a Sept. 24 editorial in The Blade. The editorial, headlined "Our timid prosecutor's office," compared the plea bargain agreement in the Whitfield case to a criminal case 12 years ago in which Jeffrey Hodge, a University of Toledo campus cop, confessed to the murder of a UT student. In exchange for the plea, Hodge avoided the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years.
The Blade editorial criticized the Lucas County prosecutors and the judges involved in both cases for not seeking the death penalty and putting the interests of the victims' families ahead of the public's interest. The editorial argued that Whitfield's plea agreement with the office of county Prosecutor Julia Bates - Judge Bates' wife - does not guarantee convictions against the other two suspects.
"A plea bargain for Ronald Whitfield is a miscarriage of justice," the editorial concluded.
Judge Bates criticized the editorial as "irresponsible" and defended the Whitfield plea agreement, noting that prosecutors took into account not only what the victim's family said, but what police and witnesses said, and their ability to obtain and sustain the conviction. "This plea was entered into for all the right reasons," he said.
Judge Bates noted that "the newspaper, in many situations, is the conscience of the community. When we do make a mistake, they bring it to the public's attention."
But he said the Hodge case "has absolutely nothing to do with the fact situation in this [Whitfield] case. The only similarities between that situation and this fact situation is there was an aggravated murder, and a female was a victim."
In his criticism of the editorial, Judge Bates made a couple of indirect references to John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade. "There is probably only one person at the newspaper that was displeased with this plea," the judge said, adding later, "It appears as though the conscience of the community doesn't even live in this community."
". . .. When I make a mistake, I am subjected to, and rightfully so, the conscience of the community," the judge said. "However, when the newspaper or an individual editor of the newspaper makes a mistake or writes an irresponsible editorial, they are nowhere accountable to anyone."
Judge Bates then looked at the defendant and said: "Mr. Whitfield, I think you should know the position of the newspaper, and maybe the community, that maybe they wanted you to receive the death penalty."
The judge said he was advising Whitfield of this for his benefit to remind him of his agreement to cooperate with prosecutors.
"If you don't comply with that plea agreement, there is a possibility of your coming back to court and facing these [death penalty] charges at a later time," the judge said.
Speaking on behalf of the victim's family, Tarek Shalan read to the court a statement in which he described the emotional turmoil his family has undergone since the death of his mother. His sister, an aunt, and a cousin wiped tears off their faces as Mr. Shalan pleaded with the judge to give Whitfield as much jail time as possible.
Whitfield rejected the chance to be heard by the court before sentencing.
"This case got a lot of attention, but as the evidence came in, what was done was in everybody's best interest," said John Thebes, Whitfield's defense attorney.
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