Court papers spell out likely punishment
By Joe Beck
Sentencing memorandums submitted by the prosecution and defense Wednesday leave no doubt that James Louis Whittlesey will receive life in prison at a sentencing hearing scheduled next Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg.
Both sides agreed that Whittlesey's guilty pleas to five bank robberies, one of them in Winchester, mean an automatic life sentence.
The prosecution memorandum, written by U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy and Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy S. Healey, states that six of the eight convictions recorded against Whittlesey carry an automatic life imprisonment sentence under provisions covering repeat offenders.
"Congress has already decided that a defendant with a criminal history like the present defendant's should be incarcerated for the rest of his life," Heaphy and Healey wrote. "Thus life imprisonment is ... the only option available to the court."
They added that the latest convictions raise to seven the total of armed robberies on Whittlesey's record.
The case against Whittlesey involves a crime spree spanning a period from July 19, 2011 through Oct. 14, 2011. The bank robberies include a United Bank branch in Winchester on Oct. 14 after which he exchanged gunfire with a city police officer. The other robberies, all of them at banks, were committed on July 19 in Fawn Grove, Pa.; July 27 in Willow Street, Pa.; Aug. 12 in Wilmington, Del.; and Oct. 7 in Lemoyne Borough, Pa.
He was also convicted of attempted escape in Burlington, Vt. after Canadian law enforcement officials returned him to the United States for prosecution in April.
The sentencing memorandum by assistant federal public defender Frederick T. Heblich asks that his client be sentenced to maximum security prisons in central Pennsylvania or northeastern West Virginia.
Heblich said Whittlesey is "resigned to life imprisonment. However, he would like to be as close as possible to suburban Maryland, as that is where both his mother and girlfriend reside. Both have expressed strong support and expect to remain in contact with him."
Heblich added that Whittlesey "is not in a strong position to expect any favors," but he cooperated with the prosecution after he was returned to Virginia, and his willingness to plead guilty to all charges in one proceeding "spared the courts and prosecutors the time and expense of transporting him from district to district where he was charged."
The defense memorandum also notes that Whittlesey has been committing serious crimes "for inexplicable reasons, since he was a teen-ager. By all accounts, he was raised in a comfortable household in suburban Maryland in a two-parent family. His father, now deceased, was an engineer, he was able to support his family so that his wife could devote her full time to running the household and raising children."
The prosecution also mentioned Whittlesey's untroubled childhood and added that he committed his latest string of bank robberies while living with a girlfriend who was "gainfully employed."
Despite such advantages, he has compiled "a long history of using a gun to get what he wants," the prosecutors wrote.
The memo also alludes to video camera footage that captured Whittlesey in the act of robbing banks.
"As this court will recall, many of the images introduced during the plea hearing in this case showed an angry, serious and desperate man, who clearly intended to succeed in his robberies," Heaphy and Healey wrote.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org