The sentencing for a man who pleaded guilty to charges of attempted first-degree murder, criminal sexual penetration and aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon from January 2014 was filled with emotion.
According to court records obtained by the Daily Record, before 22-year-old Kenneth Whiteside was sentenced to 36 years in the New Mexico Department of Corrections Feb. 16 by Chaves County District Judge Kea W. Riggs, the District Attorney’s office painted a picture of the crime scene officers responded to at the 900 block of Pecan Drive Jan. 4, 2014 while family members of the victim, as well as the victim herself, added to the horrifying illustration.
Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce, accompanied by deputy DA Matt Stone, began by showing a series of photographs the prosecution would have used if they had prosecuted the case.
Whiteside, represented by Ruidoso defense attorney Gary Mitchell, was present.
While showing an image of the victim’s home, the DA pointed attention to a window that had its screen removed and stated Whiteside had entered it.
Luce mentioned the victim’s numerous stab wounds, the extensive amount of blood at the scene and how the victim told police she had been raped in her son’s room.
“She made her way into this bathroom to try to clean herself — not recognizing the full extent of the trauma she had suffered before she would leave her house again to go to her neighbor’s house,” Luce said. “It’s just this one photo, but there was blood all throughout this bathroom and blood in the tub.
“The water was still running when the officers got there, and they could still see the blood flowing down the tub. She finally just went again, and when she realized she couldn’t stop the blood, she went to the neighbor’s home seeking help.”
The DA also mentioned how the victim pretended to be dead, and how the victim had stated Whiteside threatened to kill her if she told anyone about what happened.
According to a criminal complaint, the victim’s neighbors were unable to recognize her due to the extent of her injuries.
The victim’s jaw had also been broken on both sides, Luce said.
The victim’s daughter, who spoke next, began to break down after introducing herself to the court.
She said the day of Jan. 4, 2014 is forever etched in her mind and remembered receiving a phone call someone had broken into her mother’s house.
“At the time, we did not know what exactly had happened, but as we neared her home, it became clear that things were not OK,” the daughter said. “Cops, detectives, and a crime scene van made it clear that something awful had transpired. We were told to go to the hospital to get answers and to be briefed on what happened — it felt as if we were sitting there for hours before they allowed us back to speak with the doctor.”
The daughter said a doctor had explained some of the injuries to them, but was unable to tell her if her mother would survive.
“He told us all he could do here is to make her stable enough to be flown to Lubbock, Texas. My family and I immediately drove there — and it was there that our nightmare continued,” she said. “My sister and I were called back first (to) have us sign papers and discuss the injuries they had found. At 18 and 22, should you really have to be signing documents stating you would not pursue legal action against a hospital if your loved one happens to not make it?”
The daughter was later told the extent of her mother’s injuries by medical staff.
“As the tears rolled out of my eyes, the only question I had was, ‘Will my mother make it?’” she said, “‘Will I ever be able to see my mother alive again?’ The exact words that were said to me were, ‘If God gives her a miracle, which is what we’re hoping for, she will.’”
The daughter said her family had been warned they might not be able to recognize her.
“I grabbed her arm and looked for her tattoo, and parts of me were praying I wouldn’t find it,” she said. “I sat in that ICU room for six days on a wooden chair. I begged God to please heal my mom. Not only physically, but emotionally as well.
“As the wounds began to heal, and my mother began to come to, we were so nervous (of) the emotions that would come with her waking up. But when she finally did, she remembered everything.”
The daughter said she spent 19 days at the hospital until her mother could leave.
“My mom has gone through so much. She did not deserve anything of what she went through and is still to this day going through,” she said. “Her body holds scars that she will forever carry, a constant reminder of the battle, or should I say nightmare, that she survived.
“And just like those scars, she carries emotions and fears that will never go away.”
The daughter said her mother still requires surgery, which they cannot afford and asked Riggs to be stern.
“Thirty-six years is a small price to pay for sentencing someone to a life of fear, and a lifetime of worry,” she said. “My mom will never be able to forget the actions Kenneth Whiteside committed that early morning because she has to wear them every day, across her neck.”
The judge offered her condolences to the victim and her family.
Two letters from the victim’s neighbors were read in court. One from Rudy Chavez requested Whiteside’s sentencing be increased.
“Crimes like these have a water ripple effect,” the letter stated. “It’s never only the victim that suffers — not only will (the victim) carry this for the rest of her life but her children, her family, her friends and her neighbors as well. These crimes are against the community — not just the single victim.”
The other letter, from Rachel Chavez, stated she had never seen a person beaten so badly the day her friend was.
“My heart hurts deeply every time I think about how she looked and what she must have gone through all by herself,” the letter stated. “We tried to aid and comfort her as much as we possibly could, but when you’re looking at someone, wondering if they’re going to live or die right in front of you, it is undoubtedly one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life.”
The neighbor said she had been holding her badly cut hand and stroking her face while her husband was on the phone with 911.
“I was doing my best to keep her talking — to keep her awake — but she was so cold, pale and fragile,” the letter stated.
The victim’s sister, who said she had only missed two court proceedings in the last 49 months and 12 days, spoke briefly.
“After today, I hope that my sister can begin to put this nightmare behind her,” she said. “Your honor, as her sister, for me to help her decide to go ahead to and offer a plea bargain was so hard to do because for someone to try and take my sister’s life, 36 years is not enough.”
The victim herself then spoke, recalling what had happened, a sense of trauma still in her voice.
“My first thought was my family didn’t need this — we had just lost my uncle on Christmas Eve. My second thought was — I didn’t want to leave my kids. I can’t leave them — I wasn’t finished raising them. How could I have my kids grow up knowing someone killed their mom for no reason.”
The victim said she was so scared and had cried out for her father to save her.
She remembered an additional, different knife Whiteside was using on her.
“So I grabbed it, and I was fighting him with it,” the victim stated. “I held onto the blade, just praying. I was praying out loud, ‘Don’t leave me, don’t leave me.’
“I could feel the rusted blade cutting my fingers, and it hurt so much.
“He kept trying to pull the blade out of my hand, and I wasn’t going to let it go. I looked over his right shoulder and I saw a white light. At that moment, the blade started to bend, and I felt a snap. I saw the knife coming at me and it barely grazed my forehead.”
The victim said Whiteside got mad, drug her off her bed and cut her neck.
The victim then mentioned how she pretended to be dead until she was noticed by Whiteside, who cut her neck again.
The victim said she then just told him she was tired and wanted him to leave and offered him $600 in rent and two cards with money.
“He went back in my purse and I saw him putting the money in his pocket and he put my wallet in the other,” she said. “He walked up to me and told me if I said anything to anybody, he would come back and kill me. I just told him to leave.
“I ran to my neighbors, and I was banging and ringing on the doorbell — I didn’t know what I looked like, so I think I wouldn’t have opened the door either.
“Finally, it opened up, and I turned around and I could see him driving off and I’m trying to tell him, there he goes, there he goes.’ I don’t think they understood me.”
The victim’s statement and recalling of events lasted over 10 minutes.
“I was afraid to go anywhere to be seen because I felt like a monster. People knew what ugly things were done to me — and I saw myself as a freak.”
The victim mentioned she still requires surgery for her jaw, but since, her Medicaid coverage has stopped and she cannot currently afford it.
She ended, apologizing to those involved.
“I do not think 36 years is enough — but I am not God, only he can judge. All I ask is that he face my family as well as his own and apologize for all their hurt and the pain that he had put them all through. May God bless us all.”
Luce agreed, saying the sentencing for Whiteside is low.
“It’s just very tragic that the laws that we have for attempted first-degree murder can only be nine years, and then it’s not even a serious violent offense,” Luce said. “For what she went through — the trauma she went through, that sentence is very lacking.”
Whiteside’s mother spoke on behalf of her son. She began saying her heart goes out to the victim’s family.
“We do have feelings for what happened to them,” she said. “My son, at the time this happened, he was 18 years old. He was not a man. He was a young teenager that was under the influence of multiple things, and he made a horrible mistake.”
Whiteside’s mother asked for the family affected to try to forgive her son.
“It’s tragic for both sides,” she said. “She almost lost her life, and we’re losing a child. It’s tragic.”
Referencing again the influence she believes her son was under, she said the child she raised and knew was not the one who did this.
“My son is a loving, caring person. I just want everybody to know,” she said. “The monstrous things that he is being charged for is not who he is — is what I’m trying to get at.”
Whiteside, obviously shaken, spoke next.
“I just want to say, for the past four years, this whole thing has been tearing me up,” Whiteside said. “This is not me — I’m just terribly sorry for what I did and for what I put (the victim) through. The physical, and the emotional, and the mental pain I put her through. I’m truly sorry. Out of respect, I want to apologize to her family for putting her family through this, too.
“I just want to say that she’s a strong, courageous woman, and she’s very blessed, and I’m sorry that I put her through such a horrible time.”
Whiteside expressed his sorrow to the victim, the family, and his own family.
Whiteside’s attorney focused on his client’s mental state at an early age and spoke on the effects of alcohol.
In the end, Whiteside was sentenced to 36 years.
Judge Riggs said she was struck by the concern the victim had expressed to her family and friends rather than herself, and said she wasn’t a “monster,” but beautiful.
Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at email@example.com.