by Will Stewart,, 7/18/96

As my regular readers know, I like to make fun of Melvin Whitaker, the UVa basketball-recruit-turned-convict (hey, I work hard all day....I want to do something easy when I come home, and making fun of Melvin fits the bill). But a few days ago, I learned some facts about the Whitaker case that made my thoughts turn a little more serious than poking fun at UVa, the ultimate easy target.

For those of you who aren't completely familiar with the Whitaker story, we'll do a quick recap: Melvin was a highly sought-after basketball recruit. Melvin is 6-11, and although his offensive skills were limited, he was a rebounding and shot-blocking specialist.

Well, UVa won the recruiting battle. Lord knows why. Whitaker's test scores were in question, but he did finally make the required minimums, and he moved to Charlottesville in the beginning of 1996 with the intention of enrolling at UVa. But for a while, Melvin didn't have anything to do, other than hang out in town and wait for the next semester to start.

Then came the news, in March of this year. Whitaker had been arrested and charged with malicious wounding, a felony, as the result of an "altercation" he'd had in a pickup basketball game.

While Hokies everywhere rejoiced at UVa's shame, the details of the incident came out. Eyewitnesses said Whitaker had gotten into an altercation with a UVa football player while participating in a pickup game at UVa's Slaughter gym. You know the kind of confrontation: the woofing, barking, that-wasn't-a-foul-punk kind of garbage that goes on on basketball courts all the time.

Whitaker left the gym after the altercation and returned shortly thereafter. He extended his left hand in an offering of peace to the other player, and when the man reached out, Whitaker took his right hand and slashed across the football player's face with a sharp object, opening up a cut on the man's cheek that took 75 stiches to close.

"Geez," I thought at the time, "what an idiot. He let the heat of the moment get to him. He got into an argument, went out to the car to get something sharp and came back to cut the guy. Now his future's down the drain."

I was only half-right. Whitaker is an idiot....but what he did was not done in the heat of battle.

Let me explain. The other day, Whitaker pleaded guilty to the charge of malicious wounding, which carries a penalty of 5-20 years in prison. Whitaker will find out his sentence in September, but his lawyer thinks he can get the sentence reduced to 4 years (I say hell, send him to UVa. Four years in Hooville, or four years in jail. What's the difference?).

But seriously, think about that for a second. He pleaded guilty to the original charge. No plea bargain, no fighting it out in court. He just stepped up and pleaded guilty. In an age where O.J. Simpson can splatter blood all over L.A. and still get off scott-free, Whitaker didn't even fight it.

Here's why, in a nutshell: from the time Whitaker left the gym to the time he came back and slashed the football player, twenty minutes elapsed.

Twenty minutes.

Do you know what Whitaker did with those twenty minutes? He went to a girls dorm next door to the gym and knocked on a few doors, looking to borrow something sharp. He finally found a girl at home, who, thinking he needed to cut open a package, loaned him one of those little razor blade knives. Whitaker tested it out against his thumb to make sure it was good and sharp, and then he took the knife and went back to the gym, where he cut the football player.

It took him twenty minutes to do this.

When the Commonwealth's Attorney who was prosecuting the case found this out, he refused to plea bargain to a lesser charge. What had originally seemed like a crime of passion, albeit it a brutal one, became instead the calculated act of a psychopath. Anyone who can carry a rage for twenty minutes while he selects the perfect weapon isn't just mad -- they're bordering on criminally psychotic. So the CA stood his ground, and Whitaker pleaded guilty.

I always find myself in these situations asking one simple question: what was he thinking? Does anyone, no matter how stupid, think that slashing a man's face wide open in front of dozens of witnesses is not going to get him in trouble? Did Whitaker think that he was not committing a crime? Did he think that slashing the football player's face wide open was the right thing to do, and even if it wasn't, he wouldn't get in trouble because he's Melvin Whitaker?

WHAT WAS HE THINKING? Somebody tell me! I'm willing to listen to any crackpot theory you've got, because I can't come up with a single thing!

Folks, when I ask that question, I don't care whether the guy was a UVa basketball recruit or not. There are some people in this world that I just don't understand, and Melvin Whitaker fits into that category. As much as I hate UVa, I wouldn't wish it upon any school to be associated with someone who's capable of that sort of action. They should count themselves lucky that that nutcase never set foot on their campus as a student. I count us Hokies lucky that we never had to play against him.


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