The following account comes from law enforcement records in Tompkins County Court:

Ithaca, N.Y. — At 9:52 p.m. on May 22, 2014, Ithaca police pulled over a driver on the 400 block of Cliff Street.

It was Brandon R. Whyte, brother of Corbyn Whyte, who was charged in Ithaca with murder but not convicted.

That night, the officer told Brandon Whyte that he smelled marijuana. Whyte, 28, didn’t deny the allegation.

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The officer then saw a ballistic vest in the car. He asked Brandon Whyte why he had it.

“For protection. You know what happened with my brother,” Brandon Whyte told the officer. “It’s not illegal. I bought it online.”

A search of the car turned up more than just the ballistic vest. Police say they found crack cocaine — an “off-white rock-like substance” that later tested positive for the drug — as well as cash and cell phones.

There was also a 1-year-old child. “(Whyte) was knowingly in possession of cocaine with the intent to sell, along with a ballistic vest in the back seat of the vehicle next to a 1 year old child,” court records say.

Police say the child was improperly in a booster seat that’s intended for children ages four and up, according to court records.

Court records also relay the following:

“(W)hen defendant’s girlfriend arrived on scene to take custody of the child she asked the defendant what happened, to which defendant spontaneously replied, ‘they found work in the car.’”

Whyte sentenced today

Whyte ultimately pleaded guilty to fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance in satisfaction of several charges first filed against him.

On Friday afternoon, after a series of emotional speeches, Whyte was sentenced to 3.5 years behind bars by Judge Joe Cassidy.

About 15 other people who know Whyte were in court to support him. One woman sobbed during the part of the proceedings. Whyte will also face 2 years of post-release supervision and will pay $486.

“I know I need help,” Whyte said to the courtroom as he asked for a lower sentence than four years. “I need help with using drugs. I’m not a bad person.”

Drugs, Whyte stressed, had ruined his life. “I’m just saying I need help. I know I need help. I have a son,” Whyte said. “My son needs me. I need help for using drugs.”

Prosecutors’ plea

Eliza Filipowski was the prosecutor in the case for the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office. Before the sentencing, she asked the judge to “recognize the gravity of the charges before your honor.”

“He needs to undergo a substantial amount of prison time in order to be fully rehabilitated,” Filipowski said of Whyte.

Filipowski said prosecutors initially asked the judge to sentence Whyte to one 10-year sentence and one four-year sentence to run concurrently.

Judge Cassidy, however, capped the sentence at four years ahead of today’s hearing. Filipowski said Whyte should get the full four years, especially given that prosecutors were initially seeking 10 years.

She stressed that there were 7 separate occasions of Whyte selling drugs, some of which included sales near schools.

She said Whyte sold drugs — “in broad daylight” — with children in the area.

“Driving a Mercedes that he flashes around town and selling multiple times in the month of july does not indicate the lifestyle of an addict. It indicates the lifestyle of someone who is dealing,” she said.

Defense’s response

Defense attorney Edward Goehler criticized Filipowski’s argument on many fronts, including her comments about the Mercedes — which he said was used and belonged to Whyte’s father.

“Brandon was an addict. He’s been an addict, your honor … From day 1 that I met him, he’s said, ‘I need help,’” Goehler said. “He wanted that and he still wants that. He’s still got a problem.”

Whyte, according to Goehler, was “never making big amounts of money … if you want to call it profit, it was consumed.”

The defense attorney stressed that “two-and-a-half years is not a small number …,” the defense attorney said. “It is big. It is big.”

Goehler said Whyte had changed. “He’s taken a lot more responsibility. He’s taken responsibility for what he did,” he said. “He was honest. … What he wants, your honor, is the chance to do his time — but not an onerous amount of time. Enough time.”

Judge’s decision

Cassidy stressed that he spent a lot of time thinking about how best to handle the case.

“I don’t take any sentence of incarceration lightly,” Judge Cassidy said.

Cassidy said that when Whyte was young he was also in trouble with the law, noting that Whyte was previously charged with criminal possession of a loaded firearm.

“These activities and this prior criminal history does as far as I’m concerned weigh against the minimum … You had these warnings that you had to change your life,” Cassidy said.

Still, Cassidy said, he hopes Whyte is able to rehabilitate himself in the long-run. “I take into account that you have a family … You have the ability, you have the resources to be a law abiding citizen and successful person.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.