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Whitt gets 65 years for murder of teen

November 23, 2016 GMT

A Milton, Ky., man received a sentence of 65 years Tuesday after being convicted of murder by a jury following the fatal shooting of a teenager near Crystal Beach last year. Vaughn Alan Whitt, 33, was found guilty in October of murder with a firearms enhancement, two Level 5 felony counts of intimidation, four Level 6 felony counts of pointing a firearm and a misdemeanor charge of carrying a handgun without a license. Jurors found him not guilty on two Level 6 felony counts of pointing a firearm at two young adults following a six-day jury trial. The criminal charges in the case stemmed from the murder of Brennan Stewart on April 16, 2015. Jefferson Circuit Judge Darrell Auxier announced Whitt’s sentence after hearing testimony from Whitt’s family members and other victims of the incident, which included several family members of Stewart. Whitt did not address the Court during the hearing. His lawyer said he will appeal the conviction. Whitt’s wife, Natalie Wood, was the first to address the Court in support of the defense during the hearing Tuesday. Wood provided details of the couple’s life together before Whitt’s arrest last year. Wood told the Court she met Whitt about 14 years ago through a friend - Whitt’s brother - and the couple has been married for 12 years. “He saved me from myself,” she said. “Vaughn was truly a blessing.” The couple and their daughter moved to Kentucky in June 2013 to be nearer Whitt’s brother, who was living in Madison at the time. Wood said Whitt’s arrest has affected their nine-year-old daughter, who still sleeps with her father’s jacket and pillow. Although she does well in school, the child has covered her room in drawings created by her father during his incarceration. Wood told the Court she doesn’t believe Whitt had any idea of what he was going to get into when he crossed the bridge to Madison that April night. She said that after sitting through the jury trial she believed Whitt expected things to be much like a fight earlier that day in Kentucky. Instead, the group’s size had increased and he acted out of fear. Wood said she believed Whitt thought he was helping a friend that night, just as he helped others throughout their marriage. Whitt and Wood’s home was always open for someone who needed something to eat or a place to stay. “Vaughn would give the shirt off his back if he thought they needed it,” Wood said. Whitt’s mother, Marsha Campbell, also took the stand Tuesday. She talked about her son’s caring nature and described him as someone always willing to help elderly neighbors fix things or mow their grass. She also described him as someone who has been there for his brothers and sister, as well as friends. Campbell noted her son began working at 16 and always provided for himself and his family throughout the years. Several fight participants and victims who were near Crystal Beach on April 16, 2015, took the stand for the prosecution, recounting how the incident caused them to suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorders. Others described nightmares, panic issues and anxiety attacks which have decreased with time. Members of Stewart’s family - including his mother - also addressed the Court while reading victim impact statements. Erin Wingham, Stewart’s aunt, told the Court the teen was more like a son to her than a nephew. She never had children of her own, she said, but Stewart filled that void. “When Brennan died, it’s like we lost a child of our own,” she said. Wingham also told the Court how her life changed following Stewart’s murder. “I could never again be the person I was before April 16,” Wingham said, noting she always has a guard up now and is no longer carefree as she once was. Wingham said family gatherings won’t ever be the same without her nephew. “My family has suffered greatly,” she said. Shannon Tilley, Stewart’s mother, was the last person to read her letter Tuesday. “It is impossible to articulate the impact of losing my precious son, Brennan,” she said. “Brennan was my baby. I not only loved him, I adored him.” Tilley recalled the “great relationship” she had with her son, even during his teen years, and how he often sought her out for advice. “Brennan was the light of my life, and I feel as if I have lost my sparkle,” she said. “Brennan was beautiful, brilliant and kind-hearted. He had that rare gift of making people feel special, loved and appreciated.” Tilley said Whitt’s actions not only wrecked the lives of Stewart’s family, but that of his own family and others. She also described for the Court how her son’s murder affected her work, marriage and daily life. “When this coward murdered my son, he also murdered part of my soul,” she said. “Now I just carry on without that part of my soul. Time will not heal this wound. It just makes the could-have-beens that much harder to deal with. I am sentenced to live this life that is not mine - this life without my baby boy - all because of Mr. Whitt’s actions.” Whitt’s defense attorney, James Spencer, said he has represented several defendants in murder cases throughout his career, and several fit the category of a bad person. Yet, Whitt doesn’t fit that category. “Mr. Whitt is not the cold-blooded murderer the state has portrayed,” he said. Spencer said he still believes the shooting wasn’t an intentional act and asked the court not to issue consecutive sentences, which could have lead to a prison term equal to that of life. “Mr. Whitt is going to be punished,” he said. “There’s no question about that.” Jefferson County Prosecutor Chad Lewis outlined several aggravators for the Court to consider in the case, including prior criminal behavior, providing marijuana and alcohol to minors, the harm and damage to victims, and the nature and circumstances of the crime. Lewis also asked for the sentences of the murder charge with firearm enhancement and other felony charges to run consecutively - or one after another - so that the sentence would reflect the severity of the crimes committed to other people that he pointed a firearm at and intimidated on April 16, 2015. Lewis requested the Court consider a sentence of 77 years in prison. Auxier sentenced Whitt to 55 years on the murder charge, as well as 10 years for the firearms enhancement. Those sentences run consecutively for a total of 65 years in prison. Auxier also sentenced Whitt to three years for each of the two Level 5 felony counts of intimidation and one year each for the four Level 6 felony counts of pointing a firearm and one year for the misdemeanor count of carrying a handgun without a license, but the judge ordered those sentences to run concurrent - or at the same time - as the sentence for the murder charge. The judge said the earliest Whitt will be eligible for parole would be 48 and three-quarter years from the date of his arrest in April 2015. He would be about 80 years old.

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