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Teen sentenced to 40 years in prison for first-degree robbery

Ronald Dale "Georgie" Whetzel Jr. follows criminal footsteps of parents

December 15, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A 17-year-old Berkeley County youth has followed his parents' footsteps — right into prison.

Ronald Dale "Georgie" Whetzel Jr. was sentenced Thursday in Berkeley County Circuit Court to 40 years in prison for first-degree robbery and one to 15 years in prison for the burglary of Beck's Kennels in December 2010.

He was prosecuted as an adult in the case.

Whetzel, who pleaded no contest to the felony charges last month, will serve the prison sentences at the same time.  

Defense attorney John Lehman Thursday was unable to convince 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh to allow Whetzel to complete a state program for young adult offenders and be released on probation.

Whetzel is currently being held at a maximum security facility for youth near Salem, W.Va.

"He made a choice to rob with a handgun — folks who were known to him — and he started his adult criminal record at the top with a first-degree robbery," Groh said before announcing Whetzel's sentence.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely, who asked for the 40-year sentence, said after the hearing Thursday that she filed a motion in juvenile court to transfer Whetzel's case to adult court because of the seriousness of the crime.

At most, Whetzel likely will serve half of the 40-year prison term based on state sentencing guidelines, Games-Neely said. He will be eligible for parole after serving one fourth of the sentence, according to Games-Neely.

Whetzel was 16 when police said he and Ian Michael Derr, 21, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., donned black ski masks and robbed Beck's Kennels at 125 Becks Lane at gunpoint on Dec. 9, 2010, according to court records.  

Derr has agreed to enter the same plea as Whetzel, which includes paying $8,000 in restitution, but has yet to be sentenced in the case, according to Games-Neely.

The restitution is the amount of money that was stolen from a safe at the Inwood, W.Va., business, according to Games-Neely.

Both defendants were indicted in May on single felony counts of first-degree robbery, burglary and conspiracy.  

Masked and dressed in all black clothing, Whetzel and Derr waved what appeared to be handguns at three women in the business, which was operated out of a residence, and demanded all the money being kept there, according to court records.

Whetzel was carrying a pellet gun and Derr was armed with a 9mm handgun, Games-Neely said Thursday.

Deborah Beckman, one of three victims, told the court Thursday that she can no longer live alone and didn't know whether she could ever trust anyone like she once did.

"We knew he had problems, but we gave him a chance anyway," Beckman told the court.

Whetzel worked for the business previously, although it was not clear whether Whetzel was working for the business at the time of the robbery.

Patrick H. Futrell, a 23rd Judicial Circuit probation officer who began working with Whetzel when he was 15 as part of a diversion program, told the court that the boy's upbringing was a "disaster."

"It's a culture (of crime) that he came out of," Futrell said of Whetzel's family, noting both of his parents are in prison.

Groh said she was sympathetic about Whetzel's troubled upbringing, but concluded the safety of the community and the circumstances of the crime, which happened while the defendant was already in the juvenile justice system, were among her primary concerns.

Games-Neely told the court that she knew Whetzel's mother and father "well," and said they didn't learn to change their ways after she prosecuted them for a number of unrelated crimes.

"... And I'm not sure Georgie (will learn), either," Games-Neely said.

In response to Whetzel's apologetic statement in court Thursday, Games-Neely said she "heard the same speech from his dad."

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