Jeffrey Scott Whittaker, convicted of conspiracy to murder the husband of Donna Hoffmann, was sentenced yesterday to 50 years in prison with all but but 15 years suspended.
Whittaker, 18, of Upper Marlboro was home for Christmas vacation from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore last December when he and five others allegedly murdered Michael Hoffmann, 20.
Whittaker gave Donna and Michael Hoffmann directions to the murder scene in Aquasco and witnessed the latter's murder, according to court testimony. Whittaker will go to the Patuxent jail in Jessup for mental tests. He will be eligible for parole in as little as three years.
While Judge Jacob S. Levin was sentencing Whittaker, Donna Hoffmann was in another room of the courthouse, telling Judge C. Phillip Nichols Jr. that she is "6 1/2 or 7 months" pregnant and wants her dead husband's assets -- about $1,500 in cash and property -- to go to her child.
She said her late husband was the child's father. Donna Hoffmann was convicted last week of planning her husband's murder with John Penkert, whom some described as her boyfriend, and four other young men.
Judge Nichols told Hoffmann that he would make no decision in the case until November, a couple of months after the baby is expected.
Hoffmann's pregnancy was not obvious during her trial and it was not mentioned. Yesterday, she was wearing a white maternity smock and blue slacks.
Meanwhile, at Whittaker's sentencing, his lawyer, Thomas Heeney, suggested that Whittaker became involved in the murder for two reasons: pressure from his friends and his use of drugs. Heeney said Whittaker's longtime friend, Steven Troese Jr., asked Whittaker to stop the Hoffmanns' car, after the couple had gotten lost on the way to the murder rendezvous, and direct them to the agreed upon site.
"His problem was that he was unable to make a decision," Heeney said. "He first protested and said, 'I don't want to,' but then Troese said, 'You must, you're the only one Hoffmann doesn't know.'"
"Jeffrey Whittaker caved in to peer pressure," Heeney said. "He didn't want to let down a friend."
Whittaker's use of drugs also interfered with his judgment, Heeney said. Whittaker testified in the murder trial that he had used PCP hours before the murder.
Finally, Whittaker's father, John, gave another reason for his son's involvement: His boy was frightened by his own success in school and in athletics.
"Jeffrey had gotten so far up that it frightened him," his father testified. "That's probably why he got involved in being people-oriented, leaning towards people to satisfy his needs."