CANTON - Claiming he was set up, an Ogdensburg man broke down in tears in St. Lawrence County Court Monday after receiving a prison sentence for an attempted burglary conviction.
LaShawn J. Whitfield sat in the galley with his arm around his wife Monday afternoon when St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome J. Richards called his name.
I love you, he whispered to his wife, kissing her and taking his place next to his attorney.
Whitfield, 41, of 834 Ford St., had just returned from an extended conference with his attorney to decide whether he was going to withdraw his Nov. 15 guilty plea to the violent felony of second-degree burglary.
The guilty plea was part of a deal with then-District Attorney Nicole M. Duve that promised Whitfield six years in prison instead of the 15 years he had been facing under his original indicted charge of second-degree burglary.
Earlier Monday morning, Whitfield sobbed as he told Judge Richards he had been set up by his codefendant, Ashley E. Pike, 28, of 228 East Orvis St., Massena, and her family.
In her statement to police, Pike said she and Whitfield had been visiting her sister on the Stanton Road in Massena on Jan. 11, 2013, the day of the burglary. She said during their conversation her sister noted her next-door neighbor had moved into a nursing home a few months earlier and wondered aloud whether there was anything valuable in the 27 Stanton Road home.
She said a short time later she joined Whitfield when he went to the neighbors residence, grabbing a pillow and a hammer from her sisters residence. She said Mr. Whitfield made the porch light inoperable, broke the glass on a door and entered the residence. She said he took a small black jewelry box from the home and sold some of its contents, including a white gold plain band ring and a yellow gold opal ring, to Peets Jewelers for $123. Those two rings were recovered from the jewelry store.
Both pleaded guilty to having broken into the home. Pike was placed on one year of interim probation supervision on Dec. 23 for her April 11 guilty plea to felony second-degree burglary.
I can withdraw your plea, Judge Richards told Whitfield upon his first appearance Monday. But if I set this for trial, there are no promises and you are facing up to 15 years in prison.
Ms. Duve, assigned to the case as special prosecutor, informed the judge that Whitfield could face life in prison if he is convicted after a trial since he has multiple felony convictions, making him a potential persistent felony offender.
Whitfield broke down in tears and was given until the afternoon to decide whether to move forward with sentencing.
Im not trying to do 15 years for something I didnt do, for a ring that was $150, Whitfield told Judge Richards with tears streaming down his face. I have to do six years and the person that implicated me gets to walk away?
After hearing a list of volunteer work that Whitfield said he participates in as a means to turn his life around, Judge Richards took pity.
I believe that you have tried to change since you were charged with this crime, but you have to pay for what you have done, he said.
Judge Richards reminded Mr. Whitfield that he had seven felony convictions since 1994, including a May 2, 2003, conviction in New York County Supreme Court for fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property for which he served 1½ to 3 years in prison. He told Mr. Whitfield he would reduce his current sentence to five years in prison and five years of parole.
If this is what I have to do to get back to my family Whitfield said, his voice trailing off as he was led away in handcuffs.
In addition to his prison sentence, Whitfield is ordered to pay $375 in court fines, fees and surcharges.