Before he was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday, 19-year-old Joseph Whittenberger's voice wavered slightly as he apologized for the pain caused by his decision to carry out a burglary scheme that resulted in murder.
"I was a coward," the Windham resident and former Kent State University student said as he looked down. "I could have done something to stop this. I could have done something so that it didn't start."
Whittenberger pleaded guilty earlier this month to complicity to aggravated burglary, a felony charge, in connection with the Dec. 1 burglary-turned-murder at 8965 Corbett Road where Carole Howd, 50, was killed and her housemate, Guy Lantz, was injured.
The 10-year sentence handed down by Judge John Enlow in Portage County Common Pleas Court was the maximum for the crime, seven years longer than the minimum the defense had asked for.
"This court can conceive of no worse aggravated burglary than when a person is sleeping in bed," Enlow said.
"Justice was served today," Lantz said through tears in the courtroom hallway after the sentence was levied.
Douglas Jenkins, 20, and Michael Jenkins, 23, pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder earlier this month and were sentenced to life in prison for the roles they played in the murder. Michael Jenkins will be eligible for parole after 25 years.
The Jenkins brothers admitted to breaking into Howd's residence Dec. 1, knowing someone was home. Michael Jenkins told the court his younger brother beat Howd repeatedly with a tire iron as she slept in her bed while Douglas Jenkins wrestled Lantz to the floor and pointed a gun to his back.
Whittenberger was in the car that brought the Jenkins brothers to Howd's rural, ranch home. He did not enter the house but drove the car around the area before picking up the Jenkins brothers after the burglary..
"I know there's nothing that I can say or do that will take away the hurt and pain that I helped inflict upon the victims," he said. "I am truly sorry. I had plenty of opportunities that I wasted. Everyone's always said I was intelligent and I could be anything I wanted to be, but I always tended to make mistakes.
"I let greed and overconfidence get the better of me. I put myself in a situation that should have never happened, and it turned to tragedy," he added.
Whittenberger, who graduated from James A. Garfield High School after attending Maplewood Joint Vocational School in Ravenna, was enrolled in a program for gifted children from kindergarten through second grade while he lived in California with his family.
When his family moved back to Ohio, Whittenberger was enrolled at Hiram Elementary School before moving into the Garfield school district. During his junior and senior years at Maplewood, he earned 3.3-4.0 grade point averages.
Whittenberger's parents, William Whittenberger of Leavittsburg and Lugene Whittenberger of Windham, described how they helped their son afford to attend Kent State University last fall, gave him the choice of attending vocational school and provided him with educational and financial resources like computers and help finding employment.
Whittenberger, who has been diagnosed with a bipolar mental disorder, also saw more than one doctor and was prescribed more than one medication, which he chose on several occasions not to take, to control his mood and behavior.
Defense attorney John Plough, who represented Whittenberger, said his client happened to be in the "wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people," and said, "Sometimes the wrong things happen to good people, and that's what's happened here."
Assistant Portage County Prosecutor disagreed, saying Whittenberger chose to plot the burglary with the Jenkins brothers.
"He went to great lengths to plan the burglary and took steps indicating he knew someone would have been present," he said, describing how Whittenberger and the Jenkins brothers bought duct tape on their way to Palmyra to tie up residents of the house, made phone calls to the home to see if anyone was there and drove past the house and saw a car in the driveway.
"This defendant was the smartest of the group," Gallagher continued. "He had the background to say, 'This is insane.' And he had the resources to find his way home if he had gotten out of the car that night."