A Whatcom County man must spend one year in prison for forcing a teenager to strip naked and locking him in a freezer with rotten meat — for stealing a pistol shortly after he was involved in a Bellingham shooting.
Last fall Felipe Daniel Duarte, then 17, had broken up with a girl who lived southwest of Lynden with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend, Larry George Whitman, in the 7900 block of Lavender Lane.
On a day in late November, Duarte was over at her house. He got upset and stole a .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun out of anger, according to police reports. The gun belonged to Whitman.
On Dec. 13, 2015, the girl invited Duarte over to the house. She said they needed to talk. The girl’s mother picked up Duarte from his home and drove him to Lavender Lane.
After parking the two women walked to the house, but Duarte stayed in the car, until Whitman came outside and told Duarte to come over. Once Duarte got within arm’s reach, Whitman grabbed him by the throat and shoved him against the house.
Duarte apologized for stealing the gun. He said he could get it back. By then Duarte had sold the pistol to a boy, 14, in Ferndale, according to charging papers.
Whitman ripped a necklace off Duarte, slapped him, and held him in a headlock as he “escorted” him to a shed with wooden walls and a concrete floor, according to charging papers.
“I’ll show you about this life, you piece of (expletive),” Whitman, 55, told him.
Shooting in Bellingham
At the time Whitman knew that Duarte had been involved in a shooting in Cornwall Park four months earlier, on the afternoon of Aug. 12.
That summer day, police reported, Duarte and at least two other friends had been walking near the disc golf course in the park around 3:20 p.m. when they saw a white Honda in the parking lot.
Duarte later told police his friends had a “long-running gang dispute” with the Honda driver and his group. The man got out of the Honda and walked to his trunk. Duarte — fearing the man had a gun — pulled out a .22-caliber single-action revolver and fired two shots into the ground and one in the general direction of the car. One round hit an RV in the park.
One of Duarte’s friends, Charles Joseph Sherman, 17, opened fire, too, with a .380-caliber semi-auto pistol. A .380 round pierced the Honda’s windshield.
Police arrested Sherman and Duarte. They claimed a passenger in the car had aimed a gun at them and, in fact, two shotguns were recovered from the rival group, according to police. No one in the car was arrested.
Sherman and Duarte were charged as adults with assault in the first degree and unlawful possession of a firearm. Duarte posted $25,000 bail on Sept. 9.
Duarte was awaiting trial for the shooting on the evening of Dec. 13, when Whitman hauled him in a headlock to his shed on Lavendar Lane.
According to charging papers and Duarte’s written statements:
Whitman ordered him to get naked. Duarte took off his shirt. Whitman punched him in the head.
“I told you to get naked,” Whitman said. He grabbed Duarte’s phone and threw it on the floor, breaking it. He told Duarte to call him “Mr. Larry.” Once he disrobed, Duarte was ordered to get on the concrete floor. Whitman put his boot on Duarte’s neck, constricting his breathing, and then kicked him hard in the stomach.
Whitman handed Duarte’s clothes to a young man — a 17-year-old friend of Duarte’s ex-girlfriend — who witnessed much of the assault. That boy has since been charged as an adult with robbery in the first degree, assault in the second degree and kidnapping in the first degree.
The teen and Whitman left the shed for about five minutes, while Duarte remained on the floor, naked and cold.
Then Whitman came back in, slapped Duarte a few times, and dragged him into another room where Duarte saw a large chest-style freezer. Whitman opened the chest.
“Bet you like the smell of that don’t you? That’s what dead people smell like,” Whitman told him.
He picked up Duarte and set him inside the unplugged freezer, full of rotting meat.
Over the next quarter-hour, Whitman sprayed Duarte with cold water from a garden hose as Duarte shook uncontrollably. Whitman stopped to dump a bucket of rotten offal on him. He sprayed him with more hose water before grabbing him by the head, pulling him out of the freezer, and carrying him in a headlock back to the house. He told Duarte to take a shower and warm up.
He came outside about a half-hour later, and he was met by Whitman and the 17-year-old boy, who was wearing Duarte’s clothes and his gold necklace.
About that time Whatcom County sheriff’s deputies reached the scene — an anonymous person had called 911. Deputies examined the evidence, took written statements, and arrested Whitman and the other 17-year-old boy.
We thought that 12 months in prison would be enough of a lesson that he would not do this again.
Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Eric Richey
As he awaited trial, six friends of Whitman wrote letters asking Superior Court judges to reduce his bail from $500,000. One co-worker recounted how during a messy divorce, Whitman agreed to babysit his kids, getting up at 4 a.m. and making sure they got to school. Other friends, who knew him through church, fast-pitch and golf, vouched for his character as a “family man, a business owner, and a genuinely kind human being.”
Those motions were denied.
Meanwhile, Whitman’s co-defendant is out of jail on $50,000 bond. He’s awaiting trial.
Whitman pleaded guilty Thursday, Feb. 4, to unlawful imprisonment, theft in the first degree and assault in the second degree, amounting to “torture,” according to court records. Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder approved the plea deal. He sentenced Whitman to 12 months and one day in prison.
In hindsight, Whitman wishes he had called the police, said his attorney, Doug Hyldahl.
“He just wanted to get that gun back out of the hands of people who had shown they were willing to shoot off guns in the park,” Hyldahl said.
He pointed out that Duarte did not suffer serious, permanent injuries.
“The kid was — I’m sure he was traumatized,” Hyldahl added.
Whitman had no felony history. Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Eric Richey said that the assault seemed “out of character” for him.
“We thought that 12 months in prison would be enough of a lesson that he would not do this again,” Richey said.
As part of the plea bargain, Whitman won’t need to register as a kidnapper, as state law suggests for those convicted of unlawful imprisonment of a child.
Instead, Duarte is considered an adult victim in the case. He was also considered an adult when he pleaded guilty to assault in the second degree for the shooting in Cornwall Park. He was a juvenile in the eyes of the law, however, when he pleaded guilty to the theft of Whitman’s .22-caliber pistol.
He will remain in juvenile detention until his 21st birthday. He was sentenced last week. His friend, Sherman, was given the same sentence in December.