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Man pleads guilty to shooting.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

A 28-year-old Springfield man pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and other charges Tuesday for his role in the fatal drive-by shooting of Wendy Jo Whitaker in September 2008.

Minutes earlier, with a still-shackled right hand, Ronald Joshua "Ronny" Smith signed an agreement in which he also pleaded guilty to attempted murder of Whitaker's companion, armed burglary and auto theft.

The plea deal with the Lane County District Attorney's Office requires that Smith serve a 25-year prison term for the murder conviction. As long as he complies with terms of the agreement, however, his sentences for the three other offenses will run simultaneously with the murder term.

Those terms include his testimony at the Oct. 27 trial of his co-defendant, Michael Wayne Wesley, also 28, of Eugene.

Whitaker's parents, Larry and Lynda Whitaker of Oakland, attended Tuesday's brief hearing. Their daughter, a hairdresser, died after a bullet struck her shortly before 7 a.m. as she sat in her car with her boyfriend, the reported target of the drive-by assault. According to testimony at a pretrial hearing last week, Smith had clashed with the boyfriend over a disputed drug deal, and the man had threatened to retaliate by harming Smith's girlfriend and her children.

Lynda Whitaker said afterward that she hoped Smith's guilty pleas would "give us some closure."

"But it takes time for all these different feelings to play out," she said.

Larry Whitaker said he and his wife have appreciated the considerate treatment they've received from police and prosecutors in the case, as well as the advocate appointed them by the Lane County District Attorney's Victim Services office.

"They've kept us in the loop all the way," he said.

Lynda Whitaker said Springfield Police Sgt. Dave Lewis was particularly helpful, answering her questions about the crime for more than an hour, then agreeing to take her to see her daughter's car.

"For some reason, that helped me," she said, adding that she is still haunted by video footage that a TV station aired after the shooting, showing her daughter's sheet-covered body still in the car.

The Whitakers are legal guardians of their daughter's son, Kyle, and say the 15-year-old is doing well, academically and otherwise.

"We're all Christians, and Kyle knows he's going to see his mother again," Lynda said. "I don't know how much of our faith you can address, but I don't know how people go through something like this without the support of a loving God and a loving church family."

The Whitakers said they hope Wesley's trial will answer an important remaining question for them: Who actually fired the shot that killed their daughter? Smith has acknowledged firing at the car, they said, but the attack reportedly included several shots from a .45-caliber pistol and a single blast from a 20-gauge shotgun.

Prosecutor Mike Pugh declined to comment on case details until after Wesley's trial.
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Title Annotation:City/Region; Ronald Joshua "Ronny" Smith signs a plea deal over the 2008 drive-by fatal shooting of Wendy Jo Whitaker
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 7, 2009
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