Man convicted of raping 13-year-old at NC campground will spend decades behind bars

Kenneth Dylan Whitehead was convicted on two counts of statutory rape.
Kenneth Dylan Whitehead was convicted on two counts of statutory rape. Henderson County Detention Center

A Tennessee man will spend decades behind bars after being convicted in North Carolina for committing sex crimes against a 13-year-old girl, WHNS reported.

After two hours of deliberation, he was convicted on two counts of statutory rape in a Henderson County courtroom, and a judge sentenced Kenneth Whitehead to “699 months in prison, or 58 years and three months,” according to Blue Ridge Now.

The 25-year-old from Bristol, Tennessee, will not be eligible for parole until he has served 40 years of his sentence, the news agency reported.

Whitehead was arrested in 2016, when he was caught with the then-13-year-old girl at North Mills River Campground after another camper provided a tip to law enforcement, according to WYFF.

Whitehead and the girl asked the other camper for food, giving false names and lying about the girl’s age — saying she was 18, WHNS reported.

After learning Whitehead and the girl were “hungry and had no money,” the other camper helped out, and through the course of conversations learned information which was provided to the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, Blue Ridge Now reported.

“His contribution to this case cannot be understated and it speaks well of him and our community at large,” Henderson County district attorney Greg Newman said, according to WYFF.

Investigators learned the girl was reported missing in Missouri, per WHNS.

“(Whitehead) claimed to be helping her deal with a troubled home situation, but the truth is that he saw a vulnerable teen and he used her for his own sexual gratification,” Newman said, according to the TV station.

Deputies said Whitehead confessed to having sex with the girl “at least twice,” and she testified against him during the trial, WYFF reported.

After Whitehead was arrested, the girl eventually returned to Missouri and her mother’s custody, according to Blue Ridge Now.

“In addition to the obvious immorality of his acts, it was also dangerous to this child, whose mother was sick with worry hundreds of miles away in the Midwest,” Newman said, according to the news agency.

Esley Smith, 34, was sentenced to 25 years in prison followed by a lifetime on probation Nov. 16, 2016, after Bibb County jurors found him guilty of statutory rape and two counts of aggravated child molestation. The victim was 15. The age of conse

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Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State and McClatchy Carolinas Regional Team. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.