Modesto teen given 13 years in ice cream vendor death

10/09/2012 4:21 PM

10/09/2012 9:47 PM

A judge on Tuesday sentenced a 16-year-old boy to serve 13 years eight months in prison after he pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter for his role in the shooting death of an ice cream vendor during an attempted robbery last year in west Modesto.

Lavell Whitfield testified that he punched Martin Ham as his accomplice, DeWalter Mitchell of Modesto, shot the victim about 4 p.m. Oct. 8 near North Madison and Linden streets, about two blocks north of Maze Boulevard.

Ham, 44, of Modesto, was found with a gunshot wound not far from his ice cream bicycle cart. The bullet entered his chest and exited through his lower back, penetrating his liver along the way. He died at a Modesto hospital.

Before Whitfield was sentenced, Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees read in court a statement from the family. The family said it supported the plea deal and hopes Whitfield comes out of prison a better person.

"At least he gets enough (time in prison) to think about what he has done to Martin Ham and his family," the family statement said.

A jury late last month found Mitchell, 20, guilty of murder and attempted robbery in the attack. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole when he is sentenced Oct. 24.

In exchange for his testimony against Mitchell, Whitfield agreed to plead no contest to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter with an enhancement for using a gun. Whitfield also pleaded no contest to attempted robbery and assault likely to cause great bodily injury.

After the sentencing, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden told Whitfield in court that she hopes he makes better choices once he is released from prison. "The choices that you made that day are going to have lifelong consequences," the judge told him.

The defendant did not make any statements in court, saying only that he understood the details of his plea deal, his charges and his sentence. Whitfield agreed to waive his time served in Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall, which means his sentence officially started Tuesday.

Whitfield will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence. He will be sent to a state prison facility for minors but will be transferred at age 18 to an adult prison.

The judge told Whitfield the charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempted robbery are considered strikes under the state's "three strikes" law. That means Whitfield could be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison if he is convicted of a felony in the future.

In the trial last month, Rees argued in court that Mitchell and Whitfield attacked Ham in broad daylight to try to rob the few dollars in his pocket because he was drunk and an easy target.

Sonny Sandhu, Mitchell's defense attorney, told the jury that Whitfield was not a credible witness and would say anything to avoid the more serious charge of murder.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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