DEER LODGE — Allen Whetstone, in prison for the sexual assault of a client under his care at the Montana Developmental Center, was denied parole during a hearing Thursday.
During what was at times an emotionally charged proceeding, Whetstone denied ever touching the woman, who was in her 20s at the time of the assault but has the mental capacity of a 6- to 9-year-old. He said he only pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault because he felt "backed into a corner" and was facing up to 100 years in prison. In exchange for his guilty plea, four counts involving two other developmentally disabled women at MDC were dropped.
“I can't handle the pressure. I have learned to just give people what they want to hear because I feel it’s easier to do,” Whetstone said, trying to explain why he pleaded guilty and admitted to a friend and a co-worker that he sexually assaulted the client.
Whetstone twisted his clasped hands as he sat in a chair before the Montana Board of Parole and Pardons in a small conference room filled with his family members, supporters and those who wanted him to remain behind bars. He added that he was molested as a child by a hired hand at their ranch, which is why he says now he would never do that to anyone else.
“I kept it a secret. I didn’t want people to think I had done something to cause that to happen,” Whetstone said. “Being the victim of sexual molestation as a child, I know the impact of how it makes a person feel.”
Cody Danielson listened to Whetstone deny assaulting the woman with a look of disbelief on his face. Danielson is a criminal investigator for the Montana Department of Justice, and he painstakingly looked into the 2010 allegations. Earlier in the parole board hearing Danielson said they had "incontrovertible evidence" that Whetstone committed not just the one sexual assault but also at least two others, and he asked the board to keep Whetstone locked up as a public-safety measure.
Whetstone was employed at MDC on May 24, 2010, when he took the victim into an empty room and sexually assaulted her. He then gave her Skittles candy and warned her not to tell anyone. An employee saw her with the candy, and asked where she got it. The MDC client, identified in court papers as T.R., said Whetstone had given it to her in exchange for sex.
The state of Montana, which operates MDC, has paid a $350,000 settlement to the victim’s family and spent another $21,000 on an outside attorney.
“The victim’s statements about the sexual assault were clear, consistent and matched the evidence of the crime,” Danielson said. “Our investigation clearly showed that Mr. Whetstone had sexually assaulted one other victim on at least two occasions. Evidence also clearly showed Mr. Whetstone had been involved in the physical assault, attempted sexual assault and ‘grooming’ of another victim at MDC.”
He added that the DNA from semen found in the room where the assault occurred had a “one in 10 quintillion, 130 quadrillion — that is the number 1-0-1-3-0 with 15 zero’s after it” that the semen wasn’t Whetstone’s.
“ … I believe it is necessary to not forget who Mr. Whetstone sexually assaulted,” Danielson said. “As a law enforcement officer, I cannot conceive of a more vulnerable population than the mentally disabled.
“In my opinion, if you are willing to take advantage of this portion of society, you are a rare breed of predator … If rehabilitation is an option — and that’s completely up to Mr. Whetstone — he will have to take personal responsibility for the heinous crimes he has committed.”
Along with Danielson, Jefferson County Attorney Matt Johnson, and Sheriff Craig Doolittle urged the board to keep Whetstone locked up for the publics’ safety.
Johnson said while they initially charged Whetstone in the other alleged assaults, his office agreed to a plea bargain because testifying would be difficult on the developmentally disabled women. He added that one of the charges involved exposing one of the women to a sexually transmitted disease.
Johnson also noted that they sought a 10-year prison term, but the sentence handed down in October 2011 was five years in prison and five suspended, meaning Whetstone has only served one year and four months. He’s completed one sex offender program, but Johnson said he believes Whetstone needs more help.
“He deserves that punishment and the victim demands that punishment,” Johnson said. “What we have to risk is that he may violate other victims and that needs to be considered by the board as a reason why to not let him out. There are other victims; they just have a difficult time speaking for themselves.”
Doolittle said the high-profile case has negatively impacted not just the victim, but also citizens of Boulder. He noted that a bill was introduced in the legislature calling for the closure of MDC, in part because of Whetstone’s actions, and said the former volunteer firefighter and search and rescue team member violated the trust of the community.
“I believe that the community is going to remember this and MDC and the woman he violated would remember this for a long time into the future, and that warrants him spending more time at Montana State Prison,” Doolittle said.
Yet Whetstone’s wife, Melise Jordan, who sat next to Jefferson County resident Sen. Terry Murphy during the hearing, continued to protest her husband’s innocence. She called his conviction and imprisonment a “miscarriage of justice” and said he has been a “model prisoner” who has a job and home waiting for him in her home state of Florida.
“Claims are in the process of being filed against both the prosecuting attorney and the public defender at this time for prosecutorial misconduct and for not telling the truth,” Jordan wrote in a petition she gave to the parole board. “Allen Whetstone would serve the community better by being a productive tax paying citizen rather than to be a burden on the taxpayers.”
Parole board member John Ward recused himself from the proceedings based on a previous conversation with Jordan that he said was misinterpreted. The two remaining board members, Mike McKee and Sam Lemaich, told Whetstone that while he has taken one of three sex offender treatment programs offered at the prison, at a minimum he needs to participate in a second program to lessen the chance of recidivism.
McKee noted that the second-level sexual offender program takes four to 24 months, depending on the motivation and desire of the inmate, and he recommended Whetstone return before the board after completing it. Lemaich concurred, based upon the severity of the offense and Whetstone’s statements that he wasn’t guilty.
“This was an egregious crime and there are concerns to me at this point over your lack of culpability,” Lemaich said.