Phillip Whitlock was sentenced Tuesday morning to 25 to 50 years in prison for his role in the 2009 double homicide at the now-defunct Cabaret West bar in Washington.
Whitlock, 31, of Washington, pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree homicide and one charge of aggravated assault in April 2012 just before he was set to go to trial for the shooting deaths of Troy Saunders Jr. and Marquis Taylor outside the bar.
Whitlock negotiated the plea deal and reduced sentence with prosecutors after agreeing to testify against his co-defendant, Gregory Avery Jr., 25, of Washington, at his trial on homicide charges in December in Washington County Court.
Taylor, 24, and Saunders, 23, were shot to death outside the now-closed bar along West Chestnut Street Feb. 16, 2009. Whitlock confessed to fatally shooting Taylor and wounding Lindsay Jolly, but testified that Avery killed Saunders. However, the jury acquitted Avery after determining there were too many questions surrounding the shootings.
Whitlock’s lawyer, Noah Geary, asked for a lighter sentence because his client eventually cooperated with investigators.
“Obviously, this case involves pointless, unnecessary violence,” Geary said. “Mr. Whitlock should’ve come forward sooner to assist the commonwealth (but) he had some concerns about retaliation.”
But Washington County Judge Katherine Emery called the killings “terribly senseless” and sentenced him to the recommended terms from prosecutors.
“Two people’s lives were snuffed out at a young age and their families forever changed,” Emery said.
However, she noted that Whitlock will likely be released from prison one day with good behavior. The sentence includes time served – Whitlock has been jailed since a week after the February 2009 shootings – meaning he could be paroled as early as 2034.
“I know it will be a long time, but you will one day be released and be alive to do something with your life, unlike these two victims,” Emery said. “You have the potential to do something with your life.”
She ordered that he be taken to the State Correctional Institution in Pittsburgh for an evaluation before he serves his sentence at another state prison.
Whitlock, shackled and wearing orange prison clothes, spoke only briefly during the sentencing, but apologized to the victims’ families gathered in the courtroom.
“To everyone here, I just apologize,” Whitlock said. “It didn’t have to happen.”
Relatives of the victims declined to comment about the sentencing.
Assistant District Attorney Chad Schneider said they adhered to the original recommendations because they considered Whitlock a credible witness during the Avery homicide trial. He acknowledged the jury “may have had an issue with the timing of his disclosure” when speaking to investigators about the killings.
Avery, who is now awaiting trial on charges he shot Whitlock’s uncle, Hugh, in September 2008, is free from jail on a $50,000 percentage bond. Schneider said it is too early to determine if Phillip Whitlock will testify in that case. A trial date has not yet been set for Avery on two counts of aggravated assault and one charge of terroristic threats.