BURLINGTON — The girlfriend of a Waterford man whose body was found on the side of a rural dirt road in 2018 was sentenced in federal court Friday to more than a dozen years in prison on drug and firearms charges linked to that man’s death.
Speaking near the end of a more than two-hour sentencing hearing in Burlington, U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss said she does not believe Krystal Whitcomb fired the bullets that prosecutors allege killed Michael Pimental outside his Caledonia County home.
But Whitcomb was “at the center” of the conspiracy to murder Pimental, Reiss said, agreeing with prosecutors that Whitcomb’s role in the regional drug trade — in which she allegedly sold up to 3,000 kilograms of opioids — led to Pimental’s death.
Whitcomb pleaded guilty last fall to conspiracy to distribute heroin and fentanyl and to possessing a firearm in a drug trafficking crime. The 31-year-old was not charged with murder, and prosecutors have identified another person as the alleged shooter.
“This is the kind of crime that has a big impact on the community,” Reiss said Friday as Whitcomb sat across the courtroom. “And the sentence needs to reflect that.”
Reiss handed down a 149-month prison sentence followed by five years of supervised release. The judge recommended Whitcomb serve her sentence at a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, and participate in a federal residential drug abuse program.
Whitcomb had previously been charged in a federal indictment naming several other co-defendants, including the alleged gunman, John Welch, formerly of Woodsville, New Hampshire, and Michael Hayes, of Washington, D.C.
Welch, Whitcomb and Hayes had all been charged in that indictment with using and carrying a firearm “during and in relation” to a drug-trafficking crime during which the three “caused the death of Michael Pimental by murder.”
The U.S. Attorney for Vermont’s office had sought a 17 ½ -year prison sentence, while attorneys for Whitcomb were seeking the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Fuller told Reiss Friday that a key reason the government sought a sentence longer than the minimum was that prosecutors did not believe Whitcomb had accepted responsibility for her role in the drug trade.
Fuller said Whitcomb lied repeatedly to investigators and prosecutors while in custody — including during proceedings last year — and changed her story multiple times in an effort to shield herself from culpability.
David Hoose, a Massachusetts attorney representing Whitcomb, agreed Friday that his client had “told many lies in this case,” though he said the other defendants had lied, too.
Speaking to the judge, Hoose framed Whitcomb’s lying as a habit she had developed as a result of longtime drug use, equating his client’s situation with the phrase, “you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.”
Reiss disputed Hoose’s argument, though, saying that her court has seen people struggling with addiction but maintain “moral boundaries” such as telling the truth.
Whitcomb declined to make a statement before her sentence was read Friday.
The Waterford woman’s attorneys also framed her participation in drug trafficking as a product of Pimental’s “obsessive control” over her, arguing that Pimental would force Whitcomb to do the often dangerous work of selling drugs for him.
Pimental regularly abused Whitcomb both verbally and physically, Hoose said, calling her names and at times leaving her with black eyes and bruises.
Whitcomb’s attorneys said in court filings that her drug use “skyrocketed” after starting a relationship with Pimental, noting by the time of her arrest she was using 70-80 bags of heroin a day. Her drug use also was linked to “catastrophes” in her teenage years, the attorneys said, including the death of her mother and an unplanned pregnancy.
“Whatever relevant conduct has been established by the Government is more than offset by the extraordinary abuse suffered by Krystal and by the mitigating circumstance of her drug dependency,” her attorneys wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed last week.
The U.S. Attorney’s office argued that while Whitcomb’s abuse was “abhorrent,” it did not excuse her continued participation in drug trafficking. They also alleged that Whitcomb stood to benefit from Pimental’s death, both because he was abusing her and because she would likely gain more control over the regional drug trade as a result.
“Krystal Whitcomb may have been a victim of Pimental’s abuse, but she is not a victim of this circumstance,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum. “She brought about the situation she finds herself in.”
Just before making her ruling Friday, Reiss said she felt a 10-year sentence could have been appropriate if not for additional run-ins Whitcomb had with law enforcement after her initial arrest in New Hampshire in October 2018, on the day Pimental’s body was discovered.
Whitcomb was released from custody in May 2020 to attend a residential treatment center, which she did, according to court documents. But by October that year she had violated the conditions of release twice, including by using marijauna.
That month she was also found riding in a car pulled over by St. Johnsbury police, court documents show. Another passenger in the car, identified as her then-boyfriend, was “actively involved” in distributing drugs, prosecutors said. A third occupant had crack cocaine and a scale on them, prosecutors said, and police found a gun in the car as well.
Whitcomb did not report that interaction with police, or another in which she was found driving with a suspended license, to her probation officer, prosecutors said.
Whitcomb was taken back into custody, court documents show, but went on to incur “numerous infractions” while lodged at facilities in Chittenden and Essex counties — including drug possession and assault.
Prosecutors noted these “major infractions” took place after Whitcomb pleaded guilty in the case related to Pimental’s murder.
“Like Krystal’s chronic falsehoods, this conduct speaks volumes about whether Krystal appreciates the gravity of this case,” prosecutors wrote.
Hoose said Friday there was little he could say about Whitcomb’s actions following her 2018 arrest. He again argued that he believes they were a result of her involvement with drug trafficking and substance use.
Reiss, though, made it clear where she stood on the issue.
“That was completely against your interests,” the judge told Whitcomb across the courtroom. “You made a bad situation worse.”
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