Times Standard (Eureka)
Opera Alley murder suspect gets 15 to life
On Monday, a Tennessee man who pleaded guilty to beating another man to death with a club in Eureka's Opera Alley was sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison.
Connor Whited pleaded guilty to the second degree murder of 55-yearold Bret Keiling, who died from his injuries 12 days after being found by the police. Whited was arrested on in Sept. 2019, the same month he killed Keiling, meaning he has roughly three years of custody credits, 1,200 days of which were applied to his sentence.
“This was, from the point of view of the victim, really one of the worst crimes I've seen” Deputy District Attorney Luke Bernthal said.
Bernthal told the court that Keling — who had severe mental health issues — did nothing to provoke the fatal attack, and he struggled in the hospital before ultimately passing due to injuries Whited gave him. Bernthal agreed to a second degree murder plea because of evidentiary issues regarding Whited's mental state during the attack, since he would have to prove the attack was premeditated and Whited had the intent to kill if he were to pursue a first degree murder conviction.
Whited was initially declared not mentally competent for trial, but has since had his competency restored after being medicated. Judge Kelly Neel noted in the sentencing for the California Department of Corrections to be mindful of his mental health diagnosis, and to place him in a prison where he will receive the appropriate medication.
“It's difficult to see you (Whited) here in court and imagine you being the same person that did this,” Neel said.
Because Whited was 22 when he killed Keiling, he can be considered for youth offender parole, which would give him a parole hearing on the 20th year of his incarceration.
Whited addressed the court during his sentencing. He expressed remose and said that no words can properly encapsulate the horror of his crime.
“I understand that I did something very terrible and I wish I had the proper words for what I did,” Whited said. “I wish I could take it all back, that I could trade places with the man.”
Whited's attorney, Joseph Judge, said that his client was unrecognizable compared to the person he was three years ago when he was unmedicated.
Bernthal appeared over Zoom, noting he was forced to be out of town for training, and that he expected Keiling's family to appear remotely as well, but they were not present. The district attorney victim witness said she sent them an email about the hearing, but did not hear back.
Neel said that the law often changes, and Whited's eligibility for parole may change with it, but as of today, parole would last for the rest of his life if he receives it.
“You took what little dignity he (Keiling) had,” Neel said. “You just as easily could have been Mr. Keiling and had this done to you.”