Robbery spree may end with decades in prison

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Deshawn Whited

In 2015, he threatened a group of people – including children — with a pistol at an East Knoxville apartment complex.

In 2016, he threatened to kill a judge in a Knox County courtroom. 

On Dec. 2 of last year, he embarked on a six-week robbery spree that was finally brought to a halt when Knoxville Police Department officers caught him in a stolen car on Asheville Highway.

Last week, Deshawn Whited might have finally run into the type of legal trouble that guarantees he’ll never threaten anyone outside the walls of a prison again.

Whited, 23, was arraigned Thursday in federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra C. Poplin after he was named in a 15-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury.

He was charged with one count of carjacking, seven counts of brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, six counts of Hobbs Act Robbery and one count of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, according to court records.

If Whited is convicted of all the crimes he’s accused of, he could face decades behind bars in the federal prison system where there is no parole. 

On Dec. 2, 2020, Whited allegedly began his robbery spree by holding up the KenJo Market on Central Street and went on to hit another five convenience stores and eateries in almost every section of Knoxville, court records show.

Over the ensuring weeks, he is accused of going on to rob an Ez Stop, a Waffle House, a Wendy’s fast food restaurant and two Pilot stations.

Whited’s one-man crime wave came to an abrupt end on Jan. 20 when he carjacked a 2001 Honda Accord near downtown. 

“The male victim stated that he was flagged down by an unknown suspect at the intersection of Gay (Street) and Magnolia (Avenue),” according to a statement issued by KPD shortly after the incident. “When the suspect approached the victim, he pulled out a handgun and demanded that the victim exit the vehicle. The victim complied and the suspect left the scene in the victim’s vehicle.”

A few hours later, KPD officers who spotted the stolen car and Whited at the Kroger on Asheville Highway took him into custody without incident. 

“Further search incident to the arrest revealed a handgun, a shotgun and an amount of substance believed to be marijuana. A records check also revealed that Whited had a prior felony conviction,” KPD’s statement said. 

Investigators from the Violent Crimes Unit working with the FBI and Knox County Sheriff’s Office managed to tie Whited to the other robberies and secured an indictment while Whited was still incarcerated in Knox County.

On April 19, Whited filed a handwritten request pleading that a federal judge grant him a court hearing and allow him the chance to be freed on bond pending appeal, records show. 

“I have been sitting in Knox County jail going on 3 months now without a federal hearing,” Whited wrote. “I been on a federal hold for three months which delayin(sic) procedure.

Honorable Judge, when I go to court can I please be place(d) on pretrial release or house arrest. I would follow all the rules that are set in place for that request. Honorable Judge I would not let you down. I would do anything to help y’all.”

He was arraigned before Poplin two days later, according to court records. Through his court-appointed attorney, Stephen Ferrell, Whited waived his detention hearing and Poplin ordered him to be held in custody pending trial, which has been scheduled for June 29. 

Whited has made the local news several times over the past few years, including a 2016 tirade in Knox County Criminal Court when he threatened to kill Judge Steve Sword while he was already facing charges that he threatened a crowd with a gun, records show. 

He might never get out of prison this time if he’s convicted of all the charges against him.

In theory at least, Whited could be sentenced to 194 years in federal prison if convicted on all counts. In reality, he’s likely to end up spending anywhere from 20 years to the rest of his life behind bars, depending on a pre-sentence report and where his criminal history places him in the federal sentencing guidelines.

Federal prosecutors are also seeking to have Whited forfeit a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol and a Maverick Arms 88 12-gauge shotgun that were found in the car when he was arrested.

Whited is being prosecuted under Project Safe Neighborhoods, a national initiative that targets criminals who use firearms with long prison sentences, said a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on April 26, 2021.