A 28-year-old Missoula man was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in the custody of the state Department of Corrections, with five years suspended, for his part in a violent home invasion last year that also involved several Grizzly football players.
Missoula District Judge Robert L. "Dusty" Deschamps III sentenced Mark T. Whetstone based on a plea agreement that recommends he serve out his term in the Intensive Supervision Program. Whetstone pleaded guilty in April to felony charges of accountability to burglary and tampering with evidence.
Those charges and others were filed last November after a group of armed men broke into a rental house at 533 S. Sixth St. E. with the intention of stealing money and drugs.
Whetstone, along with his attorney, Herman A. "Chuck" Watson, and Chief Deputy Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst LaCroix, reached a plea bargain that dismissed felony counts of kidnapping and robbery. The case and the plea bargain were "heavily negotiated, discussed and investigated," LaCroix told Deschamps.
It is ultimately up to officials with the Corrections Department to decide whether Whetstone should serve out his term in prison, on probation or on house arrest. However, because LaCroix recommended that he spend the five years in Missoula's Intensive Supervision Program, into which he has already been accepted, he'll almost certainly serve out his term in that capacity.
"Mr. Whetstone, you're getting some breaks today," Deschamps said after imposing the sentence, noting that the punishment would have been more severe had the offense not been Whetstone's first felony.
One occupant of the house was repeatedly pistol-whipped and a woman was bound with duct tape before the Nov. 5, 2007, incident was over.
Within a week, informants told police who committed the break-in, naming University of Montana players Jeramy Pate, Mike Shelton, Qwenton Freeman and Greg Coleman. Levi Woods and Whetstone also were arrested. Whetstone faced a maximum sentence of 50 years in the Montana State Prison.
LaCroix also has filed charges against two more men in connection with the home invasion - Ronald Powell Jr. and Donald J. Byrnes. Powell, 27, who had previously been known to Missoula authorities only by the nickname "Dirty," was recently arrested in Fort Worth, Texas, on a Missoula County warrant. Authorities are in the process of extraditing him back to Missoula to face charges. Meanwhile, Byrnes has hired an attorney and Missoula officials are in the midst of negotiations to have the man turn himself in.
According to court records, Powell was identified by another defendant as the suspect who allegedly did the pistol-whipping. Byrnes, who had been a UM student but allegedly fled to Ohio after the robbery, is identified as having helped plan the robbery, according to records.
Other defendants told police that the plan called for Byrnes to case the house in advance of the robbery by purchasing marijuana from the occupant, then relay information to the other men.
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at 523-5264 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.