Man receives 63-years in prison for Elkhart murder

Apr. 25—GOSHEN — Sherman M. Whitener was sentenced to 63 years in prison for the murder of Deontae Harris during Thursday's Elkhart County Circuit Court proceedings.

The shooting took place July 8, 2021, in the 600 block of West Cleveland Avenue in Elkhart. After receiving a call for sounds of gunfire around 9 p.m., police found a man, Harris in the street. Harris was transported to Elkhart General Hospital but died from the injuries.

A subsequent investigation, according to the affidavit, determined that Whitener, 23. Following several days of jury trial in February, Whitener was found guilty of the murder.

Tommy Perry, stepfather of Deontae Harris, spoke during the sentencing hearing.

"I wish I had the right adjective to properly describe the devastation this has caused for the family," he said. "Furthermore, I wish I had the right adjective to describe not being able to console my wife. She was just completely and utterly unconsolable ... His sisters, every one, his cousins, everyone, we're a really close family. Everyone was really devastated by his demise."

Perry said the family asked for the maximum sentence available under the law.

Whitener argued at sentencing that the evidence presented at trial pointed to self-defense.

"The fact that there was indeed another firearm involved, and statements in the trial that clearly state that I was not the aggressor in this situation, I feel like I was judged as soon as I sat down and I would like to say that I am not guilty of murder," Whitener said. "I was simply defending myself because I was in imminent danger and that was the only way to save my life at that point. I also would like to say that I feel as if the criminal justice system is failing people every day by convicting them for crimes they have not committed. ... Truly we see that there is an epidemic in Elkhart and there needs to be change. But I would like to show remorse to the victim's family because we were associates."

Whitener was sentenced to 63 years at the Indiana Department of Corrections.

"I am under absolutely no delusion that what I do here today is going to bring any piece of mind to either of the two families that your acts completely devastated," Elkhart County Circuit Judge Michael Christofeno said. "I have yet another case in front of me where somebody has murdered someone, and I'm left with two devastated families in the community."

Whitener said he intends to appeal and was provided a court-appointed attorney for the process.


John Brandon Cox, 35, pleaded guilty during Thursday's Elkhart County Circuit Court proceedings. He didn't plead guilty to the attempted murder of which he was accused, but he did plead guilty to robbery resulting in serious bodily injury, a Level 2 felony.

Cox is accused of shooting a woman in the head in Ox Bow Park Nov. 21, 2023, and is facing an attempted murder charge and robbery.

The victim, who remains unnamed, was interviewed by officers at the hospital. There, according to a police affidavit, she told officers that she and Cox had recently met for the first time in person after getting to know each other via Facebook. The victim also told officers that Cox's legal name was "Taylor" although he goes by "Brandon" or "John" as well.

The victim told police that prior to the shooting, the two of them had driven to Ox Bow Park and gotten into an argument. During the argument, Cox, according to police, produced a handgun and placed it against her head, calling her an epithet before shooting her in the head, pulling her from the car, and taking her vehicle. Later, she identified Cox from a six-person lineup, the affidavit reads.

The victim also advised that she and Cox had stolen a guitar and sold it to Worldwide Pawn in Elkhart earlier in the day, according to the affidavit. The pawn shop confirmed the sale and the presence of both individuals at 1:32 p.m. on the day of the shooting, court documents reveal.

Sentencing is scheduled for May 23.


A woman who is charged with murdering her husband did not attend Circuit Court on Thursday. Judge Christofeno told counsel that he was informed by the jail that Linda Tener, 70, had refused to attend the morning session. Defense Attorney Alexander Hoover said he'd also not been able to meet with Tener as her attorney but presented motions to begin competency evaluations and insanity defense based on conversations with her family. Prosecuting attorney Vicki Becker agreed and said they're entering into discovery together.

Tener is accused of shooting her husband, Johnnie Tener, 71, at their son's home in the 72000 block of C.R. 9 Friday.

The call came in to police around 4:50 a.m. According to the charging affidavit, her daughter-in-law contacted police to warn them that Tener was pointing a firearm at her son, Eric. Eric reportedly wrestled the gun away from Linda Tener and pinned her down.

Police also said Tener told Eric repeatedly that she had hurt Dad.

"Your dad is dead," she allegedly said. "I shot him."

On scene, officers found a pink revolver and went to the Tener's nearby home in the 71000 block of C.R. 9 where they found Johnnie Tener deceased in a recliner with one apparent gunshot wound.

Eric told police that his mother had recently been hospitalized and treated for anxiety the day prior. When he dropped his mom off at the house after she was released from the hospital Thursday evening, he didn't notice any hostility between his parents.

During court, all parties involved seemed agreeable toward coming to a resolution for Tener and finding qualified mental health doctors for Tener's evaluations. Christofeno appointed two doctors for the evaluations.

Christofeno said they would evaluate the trial situation, currently scheduled for Dec. 2, until the results of competency are received.


Due to a busy schedule, doctors haven't been able to have the fourth insanity evaluation on Kyrie E. Brenneman, 30, Goshen. It was announced in Elkhart County Superior Court 3 on Thursday that Brenneman was deemed competent by evaluations to stand trial for multiple counts of child neglect and battery toward her 3-month-old daughter.

Brenneman is charged with two counts of neglect of a dependent resulting in catastrophic injury on Sept. 29, and six counts of domestic battery with serious bodily injury to a person under 14 June 24.

According to a probable cause affidavit, doctors at Goshen Hospital contacted police to investigate a possible child abuse after a baby was brought in with brain bleeding Sept. 29. The 3-month-old baby girl suffered a skull fracture, brain bleeding and seizures, and was ultimately flown to Riley Hospital for Children for treatment.

Elkhart County Homicide Unit was also called in for the investigation as at the time, doctors weren't sure if the girl would survive.

According to court documents, Brenneman and her boyfriend told police during questioning that the baby's dad, her boyfriend, had been caring for the child and accidentally dropped her on her head on the changing table. The boyfriend later told police it was a lie and said they made up the story together so Brenneman wouldn't have to go to jail, the report reads.

He told police that Brenneman told him that she dropped the baby and shook her and then took her to the hospital, the documents show. When questioned, the records noted, Brenneman then said that it was she who dropped the baby on the changing table on Sept. 28 and that she shook her because she would not stop crying, and also squeezed her in her arms.

After the baby stopped crying, she put the baby in her crib and went to bed and didn't check on her again until her boyfriend got home from work around 3 p.m. and he noticed the child wasn't acting "like herself," the probable cause affidavit reads.

The next morning, Sept. 29, the couple found blood on the crib and changing table but couldn't find any cuts on the baby, so they thought the blood came from her mouth and took to her the hospital when her arm began twitching and possibly having seizures, the affidavit reads.

Brenneman allegedly told police that she'd dropped, squeezed, chucked, shook, or smacked the baby before out of frustration because her crying kept her awake, between June 24 and Sept. 28. The charges dated June 24 are a result of those claims.

The jury trial is scheduled for Aug. 12, and it is yet unknown if defense will attempt to prove insanity.


By jury, Douglas Jimenez Bernal was found guilty on three counts of child molesting, a Level 1 felony; and two Level 4 felonies in March and sentenced on Thursday to a total of 46 years in prison.

Police said that between March 2019 and September 2021, Bernal, 47, touched two young girls on several occasions.

During his sentencing on Thursday in Superior Court 3, Defense Attorney Marielena Duerring said around 30 letters were submitted to the court from family and friends shocked at the verdict and commenting positively on Jimenez Bernal's character. Jimenez Bernal maintains his innocence, but Duerring acknowledged that they should continue toward the sentencing the jury agreed to.

"His overall character — but for these accusations — is extremely positive," Duerring argued, adding that while Jimenez Bernal entered the country illegally as a child, when he was arrested, he was legal. "I can't argue that he feels remorse, because he can't say that he did this. ... I know he has said that he feels tremendous sadness that the girls are doing this."

Duerring commented that Jimenez Bernal's dream of becoming a U.S. citizen would no longer be possible after the sentencing, and asked for the minimum 20-year sentence.

The father of the children involved spoke at sentencing.

"He's going to die in prison and once he dies, he's going to have to answer to God," he said. "I know my kids ain't the only victims. There will be others that come out."

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jennifer Munro said not a single person who wrote letters to the court was present for the entirety of the trial.

"Their letters should carry very little if any weight for the court because they don't know what has occurred," Munro said.

She argued for a total sentence of 56 years.

A stepdaughter of Jimenez Bernal also spoke at the sentencing in his support.

Elkhart County Superior Court Judge Teresa Cataldo determined that an aggravated sentence was appropriate.

Jimenez Bernal was sentenced on three counts: On count 1, child molestation, a Level 1 felony, he was sentenced to 36 years at the Indiana Department of Corrections; on count two, child molestation, a Level 4 felony, he was sentenced to 10 years at IDOC to be served consecutively; and on count three, child molestation, a Level 4 felony, 10 years on probation.


Rickey D. Black, 44, was sentenced to a total of eight years at the Indiana Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to possession of methamphetamine, by Judge Christofeno on Thursday.

Black was arrested on March 29, 2023, after an ICE unit raided his home in the 600 block of James Place in Elkhart.

Police say ICE became involved after they noted Black, who had earlier run from police on Jan. 5 of the same year, standing in the yard. An officer knew that Black's license was suspended but saw him get into a vehicle and leave, so they conducted a traffic stop at Parker Avenue and East Jackson Boulevard. The vehicle stopped but then fled and a pursuit began through nearby yards and the wrong way down streets for about a mile and a half, according to a probable cause affidavit. The vehicle wrecked just over the railroad tracks, going into a ditch at Middleton Run Road.

Black continued to flee on foot, but officers caught up and he attempted to hit them so they tackled him to the ground, police reported. After being medically cleared, Black was taken to jail and the vehicle was inventoried for impound. During the inventory process, police reported they found multiple bags of meth totaling 12.2 grams and a bag of pills, two cards with Black's name on them, a digital scale, and a loaded handgun. They also learned that Black's criminal history, among other charges, also included two prior convictions for meth dealing in 2010.

Public Defender Matthew Johnson told the judge that the stipulated plea was fitting given his addictions problems and generational addictions.

"I don't know how to be sober on the street," Black said. "I don't know how to cope. When I'm on the streets I'm like a 15-year-old kid. I've spent decades of my life in prison. ... I'm trying to get some understanding of the issues I need to deal with to break the cycle in my family. ... I don't know what I don't know and I don't have the tools."

Black said during a tenure at the Department of Corrections during the pandemic, he was assigned to Recovery While Incarcerated, but due to the situation, people passed too easily, and he felt he didn't learn anything. The sentence of eight years also includes an additional two years on probation. Christofeno said he wouldn't assign Recovery While Incarcerated, but if Black could convince the Department of Corrections, he could re-enter the program.


An Elkhart woman charged with robbery had her trial date continued in court Thursday.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Antaysha Curry, 34, had made a Facebook post earlier in the day, asking if anyone had a lawn for her son to mow for money.

The victim made arrangements with Curry to come May 11 to have the lawn cut. The victim wasn't home when Curry arrived, but arrived about 40 minutes later to find the lawn partially mowed and Curry coming out the front door of her home at 56634 C.R. 1, Elkhart, walking toward a red truck.

* When she went inside, the victim said she noted several items missing including a PlayStation 4 Pro, hygiene products, loose change jars, and a Chromebook, as well as other items stacked near the door. She went outside and asked Curry to return the items, to which Curry allegedly responded, "You shouldn't have left your door unlocked if you didn't want your sstolen," before leaving in the truck.

Officers were informed that a mutual friend was in contact with Curry and encouraging her to return the stolen items and in the end, the victim was provided an address, 30015 Old U.S. 33, Innovative Designs, where the items were recovered.

The next day, the victim told police that she'd received a message from Curry threatening to beat her up.

Her jury trial was continued to Dec. 16, with a trial status conference Nov. 21.


Nathan J. Miller, 34, of Goshen was sentenced to a total of 20 years for two counts of child molestation, a Level 4 felony after a guilty plea in March.

A school resource officer contacted Goshen police advising a young girl reported being molested.

A forensic interviewer learned the abuse started as young as age 6.

Miller was charged with two counts of child molesting, a Level 1 felony, but charges were amended to a Level 2 felony and Miller also pleaded down.

During Elkhart County Superior Court 3 proceedings on Thursday, Judge Cataldo expressed confusion when a presentence investigation report by Miller appeared to contain a denial.

"From what I know, I had inappropriately touched the victim," it read. "It was claimed, I just know what the charge is, and I'm pleading guilty to that."

Due to amended charging information, his defense attorney Ryan Mehl explained that he did accept the charges.

"Nathan is a good man, and I just believe he needs help," the mother of the victim said in court.

Each of the counts received 10 years consecutively, with five suspended on reporting probation.


A man charged with child molestation was sentenced after pleading guilty to four counts of child molesting, a Class C felony.

Victor Stilley, 47, was arrested on July 28, 2021. The victim claimed that in 2011 and 2012, when she was just 5 years old, Stilley molested her numerous times.

The mother of the victim did write a letter to the court but chose not to attend the sentencing in person.

"I will never understand how anybody can hurt a child," she wrote. "I don't offer him grace, but I do have hope. Not just for my child, but for every victim of child sexual abuse. ... All the prison time in the world can't undo the damage Mr. Stilley has done."

Stilley was sentenced for four counts of child molestation, eight years at the IDOC for each of the first two counts; four years at IDOC and four on reporting probation for the third count; and six years on probation for the fourth court — all to be served consecutively, for a total of 12 years at the IDOC and 10 years on reporting probation.


Amanda Bloom pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine, a Level 5 felony, as a lesser included offense from an incident at the beginning of the year.

Bloom was arrested on Jan. 1 following execution of a search warrant on a property in the 1100 block of West Avenue, along with Chad Crowley, 54.

Bloom told police that she used drugs in her own home and had purchased only a gram and a half of meth the night prior from someone she didn't know.

Both residents only offered police a few comments before requesting attorneys.

In the bedroom, police found empty bags with meth residue inside, a bag with seven smoking devices, a blue plastic smoking device, a plastic corner bag, a bag of marijuana, a syringe with yellow liquid, a red pan with a spatula under bed, and around 15 grams of meth.

In the living room, police found a scale with white residue on it, a glass smoking device, a homemade smoking device, empty resealable bags, and around 2.9 grams of meth.

Bloom told police that she had been clean for around 10 years but following a car accident, became addicted to medications and that while she no longer used pain medications, she did smoke meth occasionally.

Sentencing is scheduled for May 23.

Dani Messick is the education and entertainment reporter for The Goshen News. She can be reached at or at 574-538-2065.