Man tearfully claims innocence during sentencing for wife’s murder

Winnie Whitby, 49, weeps as evidence is read against him in court. Whitby is accused of murdering his wife and dumping her body off a Jamul hiking trail.

EL CAJON, Calif.  — A man convicted of fatally stabbing his wife, whose body was discovered alongside a hiking trail near the couple’s Jamul home, was sentenced Monday to 16 years to life in state prison.

Winnie Perry Whitby, 49, was convicted by an El Cajon jury last month of second-degree murder in the killing of 49-year-old Melissa Whitby, who was reported missing by her co-workers a week before her body was found on the afternoon of Jan. 7, 2017.

Whitby tearfully maintained his innocence at his sentencing hearing.

“There’s no material evidence showing that I committed this crime,” he said, calling it  “a scary time in an American courtroom when one’s life can literally be destroyed with hearsay.”

“I did not kill my wife,” said Whitby, who added he was “hurt by this loss” and called the victim his “best friend.”

Superior Court Judge Daniel G. Lanborn noted the “unprovoked, horrific, and violent nature” of the killing before imposing the sentence, saying the victim was stabbed “many, many times” and her body was “dumped on a trail and exposed to the elements.”

A hiker came across the victim on a footpath off the 15800 block of Skyline Truck Trail, about a mile west of the couple’s home. She had been stabbed in the face and chest, according to prosecutors.

Her husband told authorities his wife had gone out two nights prior to New Year’s Eve and never returned.

Prosecutors did not lay out a concrete motive for the killing, but said Whitby harbored delusions regarding his wife, including that she posted suggestive pictures of him on the internet and that she was in league with the Mexican Mafia. Prosecutors say he made similar claims about an ex-wife.

The victim’s older sister, Teresa Zenimura, said at the sentencing hearing that “part of me has been missing ever since” the victim vanished and “there is a hole in my heart in the shape of my sister,” who was often called “Lisa” by family members.

She said that though her sister’s murder shook her and her family to the core, she refused “to carry bitterness and anger, because I know hatred is like swallowing poison. My sister is gone, but the best way for me to honor Melissa’s life is to advocate justice for her cruel murder, to rise above the agony of her senseless death and to live a life fully, without hate.”

Addressing Whitby directly, she said: “You only knew her for a few years, but she had a history, a place, and a sense of belonging with a family that will always remember her. I want you to know that Lisa was loved and always will be loved.”

Whitby was arrested in Goldsboro, Maryland, nearly two years after his wife’s death.

In 1995, Whitby stood trial in Denton, Maryland, on charges of gunning down his fiancee’s two brothers. He was acquitted of two counts of first- degree murder and four other criminal charges in the case, the Star Democrat newspaper reported.

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