Grieving family members verbally lashed out in Santa Barbara County Superior Court at the man convicted of murder in the stabbing of Theopheus Bennett in Lompoc more than four years ago.
Kenneth Robbie Whalen, 34, of Lompoc was found guilty of second-degree murder by a jury for the April 3, 2018, death of the 34-year-old Bennett near the Barkin Dog Park on West Barton Avenue in Lompoc.
During the trial’s opening statements in August, attorneys told jurors that Whalen either “administered the street version of the death penalty” or acted in “lawful self-defense.”
Deputy District Attorney Stephen Wagner told jurors that the autopsy results revealed Bennett had stab wounds “so vicious, so violent Theo’s ribs were broken and his lung was punctured.”
The panel heard the victim’s voice since his phone call for help was played in court.
Whalen’s attorney, Dillon Forsyth, contended that the fatal stabbing occurred in self-defense, claiming that a sleeping Whalen awoke to find Bennett leaning over him, apparently trying to access his backpack.
During the emotional sentencing hearing Thursday afternoon, Bennett’s parents and aunt provided victim impact statements in Judge Von Deroian’s courtroom in Lompoc.
As pictures of the murder victim were displayed on a large screen in the courtroom, his dad said the man killed had the mental capacity of a 14- or 15-year-old.
“You didn’t kill no street soldier,” the father said, adding that Whalen took advantage of somebody who was not capable of defending himself. “I don’t even think my son knew how to fight.”
As Whalen heads to state prison, the father said, “I just want you to know, man, you are in for a long ride.”
During the hearing, Bennett’s mother twice erupted in expletive-filled outbursts, shouting at Whalen, “You killed my son,” and called him a “coward-ass bitch.” She stormed out of the courtroom twice.
A Victim-Witness Assistance Program representative read the mother’s statement, remembering the first-born son as a kind, affable and compassionate man cherished by his family.
She said Whalen lacked remorse and took self-serving actions after the killing.
“Theo does not deserve what happened to him,” the mother wrote.
The trial revealed that Whalen’s cellphone wallpaper had the saying, “Death follows thieves.”
“Kenneth Robbie Whalen, this is not justice to me,” she wrote, adding that her son should be alive to celebrate his 40th birthday while displaying his beautiful smile.
The mother vowed to attend every parole board hearing.
“You don’t get to brag about what you did and face no consequences,” she said.
Wagner urged the judge to look at the defendant’s total conduct and the “savage nature” of the killing.
Whalen did not make a statement after Forsyth said he advised his client not to comment during the hearing.
The judge sentenced Whalen to one year plus 15 years to life in state prison. He received credit for 1,658 days and was ordered to pay $6,278 in restitution to the California Victim Compensation Fund.
She added that while she didn’t believe the defendant woke up that day intending to kill a person, his actions forever destroyed two families,
“Prison is not going to be easy. I hope you take the time while in prison to try to get an education and make an impact so what happened and Mr. Bennett’s life being taken isn’t in vain,” Deroian said.