A 54-year-old Big Spring man was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday morning in 118th District Court, pleading guilty to one count of prohibited sexual conduct after law enforcement discovered he had fathered a child with his daughter.
Edgar Dale Whitt, 54, formerly of 4302.5 S. Highway 87 and currently in the custody of the Howard County Detention Center, had been indicted by a grand jury June 1 on two counts of prohibited sexual conduct and four counts of indecency with a child, all second-degree felonies.
Whitt — along with his daughter, 26-year-old Tamara Ruth Whitt, also of 4302.5 S. Highway 87 — were arrested March 18 after police officials responded to a report of a 7-year-old boy traveling down S. Highway 87 on a bicycle, attempting to run away from home. According to law enforcement officials, there were also two other children living in the home at the time, a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old.
Both Edgar and Tamara Whitt were initially charged with abandoning/endangering a child – criminal negligence when the boy told officers he was running away from home after having been restrained with a straight jacket.
All three children were removed from the home by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Per the plea bargain with Edgar Whitt, officials with the Howard County District Attorney’s Office have agreed not to prosecute Tamara Whitt. At the time of the plea agreement, Tamara Whitt had been charged with two counts of abandoning/endangering a child – criminal negligence.
Tamara Whitt was present in the court’s audience Friday morning; however, she was removed from the courtroom by the bailiff prior to the proceedings.
Whitt was represented by Sweetwater attorney Trey Keith, while Assistant District Attorney Robin Orr represented the state.
The sentence was handed down by 118th District Court Judge Timothy Yeats, who asked if Whitt had any questions.
“My only question is that the court take under consideration my health. I’m a cripple and disabled,” Whitt said quietly.
According to Orr, Whitt will be required to serve 25 percent of his sentence — in this case, approximately two years with his time spent in the county detention center awaiting trial considered — before he is eligible for parole.
“Certain offenses are listed in the code of criminal procedure that essentially say the judge cannot grant probation for them and if a person is convicted (of a 3G crime) they cannot accrue good time toward a parole until they have served at least one-half of their sentence, day for day,” Orr said. “(When it is not a 3G offense) you have to serve one-quarter of your sentence, however, you can accrue good time toward that quarter.
“Understand, however, that becoming eligible for parole in way guarantees you will receive it. It is my understanding that on a lot of sex offenses now, they are serving a much greater percentage of that time. Again, his case will be judged on its own merits — whatever those happen to be — and his conduct while he’s in the system will have whatever bearing it will have, good, bad or indifferent.”
Orr said he was satisfied with the outcome of the plea agreement, despite the dismissal of several charges.
“It took me a long time just to go through the reports written on this case and try to construct a timeline and get some idea of the sequence in which things occurred,” Orr said. “Having done that and having evaluated what I found it was my opinion — in certain respects, especially toward the charge of prohibited sexual conduct — I felt quite sure we could get a conviction. The question became, ‘What would a jury do with that?’ My experience with juries is there’s no way to tell.
“In this particular case it was a substantial sentence; it wasn’t necessary to prepare the case for a trial that necessarily involves the witnesses, some of the family members. Especially in regard to the charges of indecency with a child, I had very substantial doubts as to whether or not — in a legal sense — that case would even get to a jury. So, dismissing that case was us not giving up a great deal. There are times when, as much as you might like to prosecute a certain case, you have to, as a professional, realize the evidence you need is simply not there and that was a large part of my evaluation of that part of the case.”
Given the unpredictable nature of a jury trial or subsequent punishment phase, Orr said he felt comfortable with the outcome of Friday’s proceedings.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever (met) anyone who confused a 10-year sentence in the Texas prison system with a day at the beach,” Orr said firmly. “Regardless of how much time he does serve or not serve, he is a convicted felon. We were able to accomplish that without the risk to us of a trial. I know people might think he might have gotten a different sentence (at trial) ... and that’s true, he might have. However, he might not have. What if a jury comes back with a three-year sentence?
“One of the things I’ve come to appreciate in the dozen years I’ve been doing this is I value the certainty of a conviction which results from a plea agreement rather than the chance to perhaps obtain a greater sentence. A bird in the hand is still worth two in the bush.
“I don’t think Mr. Whitt is in really good health to begin with. I don’t know that he is going to get out of prison,” he added. “His health wasn’t considered in relation to the plea agreement as far as I know. It was always there, in the background, but I don’t believe anyone ever figured, ‘Hey, he’ll die in prison.’ Although, that is a possibility.”
According to Marleigh Meisner, public information officer for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), all three children are currently in the agency’s conservatorship.
“Two of the children have been placed, together, in a foster home,” Meisner said. “The third child has been placed separately. All three are doing very well at this time.”
Contact Staff Writer Thomas Jenkins at 263-7331 ext. 232 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org