PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Nathan Whitney expressed remorse Thursday when he became the last of four young Joplin men assessed prison terms for the murder of Ryan Bailey two years ago in Pittsburg.
The 29-year-old defendant listened to Bailey’s wife and adoptive mother render emotional victim-impact statements at his sentencing hearing in Crawford County District Court before standing up and responding to their loss.
Whitney said he could never have imagined when he woke up on Oct. 6, 2011, that another young man would lose his life that night and that he would be involved. He apologized for his participation in the home-invasion robbery attempt that claimed the 21-year-old Bailey’s life and for not having done anything to stop it.
“I understand your hurt,” he told the family but was quick to add that he realizes his understanding falls short of fully comprehending the pain and loss it must feel.
District Judge Lori Fleming approved the terms of a plea agreement at the hearing and assessed Whitney 10 years in prison for second-degree murder. Related counts of aggravated burglary, attempted aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery were dismissed as part of the plea deal.
The sentence represents a downward departure from the presumed length of terms for second-degree murder under state sentencing guidelines. The judge said she was not in the habit of “rubber stamping” plea deals with downward departures, but there were mitigating circumstances in Whitney’s case that made the terms of the plea deal more acceptable.
Fleming noted that Whitney’s actions the night of the murder were “perhaps less” culpable than his co-defendants, all of whom pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and related counts, and received longer sentences.
Ricky R. Smith, 24, the admitted shooter in the slaying, was assessed 26 years and 10 months. Oscar DeLeon Jr., 20, and Randu R. Rivera, 20, received 14 years and four months each.
The judge noted that Whitney was not part of the original plan to rob Bailey of marijuana and money, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing.
“He learned about it when they arrived at the residence,” the judge said.
Smith had testified at DeLeon’s preliminary hearing in February 2012 that the plan had been that Smith and Rivera would go to Bailey’s door and rob him. He said the plan changed to having Whitney enter the home with him because Whitney also had a gun. At Whitney’s preliminary hearing, however, Smith acknowledged that he was not certain Whitney had a gun, according to District Attorney Michael Gayoso.
Brandy Bailey began her victim-impact statement with an expression of frustration with the relatively short sentence that Whitney was expected to receive under his plea deal. She recalled the night her husband was killed and how it has left her with two young sons to raise without a father.
“There is so much that Ryan had to offer that I will never be able to give them,” she told the court.
She was in the living room with her husband and their 2-year-old son, with their 6-month-old baby asleep in another room, when Smith broke into their home, she said.
“The look on his face was evil and determined,” she recalled.
Her instinct was to grab their toddler and duck behind an island between the kitchen and living room as her husband rose to confront the intruders. She heard a gunshot and the sound of her husband falling to the kitchen floor. She said she then saw Smith standing over him, yelling: “Where’s it at?”
Court testimony in the case has revealed that DeLeon knew Bailey and referred to him as his “weed man.” The co-defendants went to his home looking to rob him of a stash of marijuana and $5,000 cash.
Brandy Bailey recalled that after the intruders left and she went to assist her husband, she saw her son standing there staring at his fallen father, bleeding out from the shot to his neck.
Despite his guilty plea to murder, Smith has insisted that the shooting was accidental. He claims he swung the gun intending to strike Bailey with it and the weapon discharged.
Marcia Murry, who took Ryan into her home when he was 14 and informally adopted him in a ceremony at their church in 2008, told the court that he’d had a rough childhood. But he attended Riverton High School, played on the football team and made the National Honor Society there. Later, he married his high school sweetheart and became “a hands-on father who loved his boys and wife,” Murry said.
Ryan began making some bad choices when he entered a college environment, she said. But she believes he would have overcome those problems had his life not been taken from him.
District Judge Lori Fleming ordered that Nathan Whitney’s 10-year term for murder run consecutively to a sentence he is serving in Missouri for receiving stolen property. He must complete three years on parole following his release from prison and must register as a violent offender.