Prosecutor Lance Gillett argued Friday that Jennifer Witherell played a major role in kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 40-year-old mother and 19-year-old daughter at their Derby home in February 2011.
Gillett described a crime scene where authorities found the mother on the floor – hog-tied and in danger of suffocating. They had to cut off ropes tied to her so she could breathe. A knife had been used to threaten the victims. Both had been sexually assaulted by Witherell and her boyfriend, Patrick Stewart, Gillett said.
Witherell helped provide rope and fled with a knife in her hand, he said. If not for a neighbor’s help and quick action by police, the crimes could have ended worse, Gillett said, referring to crimes committed about 12 years ago by Reginald and Jonathan Carr, who were convicted of a brutal quadruple murder that included sexual assaults.
At the end of Friday’s hearing, District Judge Phil Journey sentenced Witherell, 27, to 165 months — nearly 14 years — in prison for two counts of aggravated kidnapping and two counts of aggravated sexual battery.
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Journey took into consideration that she took responsibility for the crime. She helped authorities find and arrest Stewart, and she has agreed to testify in his upcoming trial.
Gillett had argued for a 199-month sentence — nearly 17 years.
Witherell’s attorney, Lee Woodard, had argued that she played only a passive role in the crimes, that the crimes weren’t “a joint, planned-out enterprise; this was a thing that really got out of hand when Patrick Stewart decided it was going to get out of hand,” that the mother gave Witherell drugs, which impaired her judgment.
When Journey gave Witherell a chance to speak, she said in a tearful voice that what happened was “horrible … I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, and I swear, if I could I would take their place.”
Witherell’s mother, seated behind her, sobbed.
In the lead-up to announcing his sentence, Journey – referring to the two victims – said that “for that mother and daughter, this may never be resolved.” He said it was difficult for him to find any way to rectify the harm they suffered, the “terror they must have gone through.”
Earlier Friday, Witherell – wearing jail garb, handcuffs and shackles – testified that she met the mother and her daughter at a Derby bar and went to the pair’s house and continued to drink; that the woman gave her cocaine and the two snorted it, and that the woman give her a pain pill, which she swallowed.
In tears, Witherell said the woman kissed her and that Stewart stepped over and kissed the woman.
Later, things turned violent, according to authorities.
Witherell’s aunt testified Friday that her niece, who had lived in Texas and Alaska, feared Stewart. She said Stewart dominated the relationship and manipulated Witherell.
Stewart’s attorney, Alice Osburn, said he has pleaded not guilty and that she can’t comment beyond that until his trial.
Stewart – charged with two counts of aggravated kidnapping, three counts of aggravated criminal sodomy, one count of aggravated assault and one count of theft – faces trial July 9.