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Tennessee man sentenced to 58 years in child sex case

A Henderson County jury deliberated last week for two hours before finding a 25-year-old Tennessee man guilty of two counts of statutory rape.

Kenneth Whitehead, of Bristol, Tennessee, was sentenced on Thursday by Superior Court Judge William Coward to consecutive sentences totally 699 months in prison, or 58 years and 3 months. He will be eligible for parole after serving a minimum of 482 months, or 40 years, in prison.

The jury heard the testimony of the female child victim in the case, who was 13 years old at the time of the crimes in 2016. The child and the defendant were camping at the North Mills River Campground when they asked another camper for food. The 13-year-old said that she was 18 and gave a false name. The defendant also gave a false name. They told the camper that they were hungry and had no money. The camper helped the couple and in talking to them he followed up on information they provided in casual conversation. Contact was subsequently made with the Henderson County Sheriff’s office who found that the girl was actually 13 and had been reported missing from the state of Missouri. The defendant has a criminal record of both felonies and misdemeanors in at least 3 states.

In a statement given to the Sheriff’s office and presented at trial, the defendant admitted to having sex with the child at least twice. He was arrested and has been in jail ever since. The child was taken in the custody of the Henderson County Department of Social Services until she was released to her mother and taken back to her home in Missouri.

The state’s case was presented by Assistant District Attorneys Beth Dierauf and Jason Hayes.

“I am very pleased with the verdict and most satisfied with the sentence imposed by Judge Coward,” District Attorney Greg Newman said. “The defendant apparently met the 13 year old through a mutual friend in Tennessee. He 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.

"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 added. "This defendant, and others just like him, who are looking to take advantage of the most vulnerable in our communities – the young, the elderly, the poor, mentally challenged, etc. – are dangerous people and need to be dealt with in the most serious and severe terms."

“I appreciate the efforts of my lawyers, Ms. Dierauf and Mr. Hayes, law enforcement, and the local man who met the girl and defendant at the campground and had enough concern and suspicion to question the situation," he said. "His contribution to this case cannot be understated and it speaks well of him and our community at large."