VISALIA – An 83-year-old man faced family and friends of the man he murdered as well as some of his molestation victims at his sentencing on Thursday.
“I hate the actions you did, to take the love of my life,” Sonya Whisenant said to her husband’s killer in the Tulare County courthouse.
In May of this year, Ernest Perez pleaded guilty to murdering 73-year-old Ronald Whisenant in 2009. He also pleaded guilty to three counts of lewd acts with a child younger than 14.
Tulare Superior Court Judge Joseph Kalashian excoriated Perez before handing down a sentence of a combined 70 years-to-life.
“Evil is sitting right here,” the judge remarked. “What he did was evil.”
Ronald Whisenant’s relatives said that Whisenant, an antique store owner, was killed because he discovered Perez had molested several young boys. Perez threatened to kill Whisenant if he went to the police with the information, relatives said. Instead of giving in to the threats, Whisenant called the Dinuba Police Department to report the crimes.
“He could have gone and turned the other way and not reported what he knew and saw,” Sonya Whisenant said. “But he loves kids and he knew covering it up would be wrong.”
In August 2009, Perez went into Whisenant’s antique store and shot and killed him.
Whisenant’s daughter, Lisa Rollins, said that she wished there were more people in the world like her father – willing to stand up and fight for what is right.
“Today, we honor him as a hero who gave his life to protect child victims of abuse,” Rollins said.
Whisenant’s family believes that Whisenant’s actions prevented Perez from continuing to molest young children.
In 2009, a sheriff’s detective reported that he believed Perez had committed at least 20 lewd acts against one victim. That victim claimed that Perez paid him and his family $17,000 a year for three years to keep quiet.
As part of Perez’s deal to plead guilty to murder and three counts of lewd acts, prosecutors dropped 52 lewd act counts for incidents that investigators believe stemmed back to 1994.
Some of Perez’ victims also spoke in court on Thursday.
“I have these memories that I cannot get out of my mind,” one of his victims said. “I wouldn’t be here saying these things if it weren’t Ronald (Whisenant). He was a good man and you just took his life.”
Judge Kalashian told Perez’s victims and Whisenant’s loved ones that he hoped Perez would not be “a negative factor for the rest of your lives, because then he would have won. And he didn’t.”
Kalashian also gave Perez a chance to speak. After Perez said, “A lot of what was said here is a lie,” Kalashian cut him off.
Kalashian sentenced Perez to 25 years-to-life on the murder count and 15 years-to-life on each of the three molestation counts.