The following is a press release issued by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office:
As potential jurors were reporting in Monday morning for jury duty at the Ukiah courthouse, defendant James P. Whetstone, age 30, formerly of Willits, was in an upstairs courtroom waiving his right to trial.
After waiving his trial rights, the defendant withdrew his not guilty plea and, in its place, entered a no contest plea to second degree murder, a felony.
A no contest plea to a felony is the same as a guilty plea for all purposes.
As background, the defendant murdered his father October 9, 2020 on the father’s property in Willits as a result of an argument regarding who could or should be using certain garbage cans at the location.
After strangling the 69-year old victim with a belt, the defendant then buried his father in a shallow grave and attempted to clean up the crime scene in an effort to cover up his patricidal act.
A conviction for second-degree murder refers to a conviction for an intentional killing but without premeditation and deliberation. In other words, the underlying facts suggest the defendant’s mental state at the time of the killing was a willful, yet impulsive intent to kill.
After the defendant’s no contest plea was accepted by the Court and entered into the court records, the matter was referred to the Adult Probation Department for a background study, pre-sentence credits report, and other information that will be needed when the defendant is transported to and received at state prison.
A sentencing hearing is now scheduled for November 2, 2021 at 9 o’clock in the morning in Department B of the Ukiah Courthouse.
There is only one penalty listed in the California Penal Code for a conviction of second-degree murder – 15 years to life in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
Any person interested in this case is welcome to attend the November 2nd hearing date. Please be aware that masks are still required in and about the courtrooms.
The law enforcement agency that developed the evidence underlying today’s conviction was the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.
The prosecutor handling this matter is Deputy District Attorney Luke Oakley.
Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Keith Faulder accepted the defendant’s change of plea this morning and will be the judge who imposes the life sentence on November 2nd.
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