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Christmas killer sentenced to 15 years for shooting Surrey store clerk

The Surrey man who admitted last week to shooting an innocent student and store clerk on Christmas Day 2011 has been sentenced to spend another 15 years in jail.

William Andrew Whiteside, 23, heard his fate from Judge James Jardine on Tuesday morning in Surrey Provincial Court. The sentence, totalling 15 years and one month, takes into account time Whiteside has already spent in custody.

On Friday, Whiteside pleaded guilty to manslaughter for shooting Alok Gupta to death on Dec. 25, 2011 during an armed robbery.

Whiteside apologized in court Tuesday, saying he did not mean to kill Gupta and is very remorseful.

In handing down the sentence, Jardine noted Whiteside has wanted to plead guilty for more than a year and expressed his remorse on many occasions.

"He is still young," said Jardine of Whiteside. "At this age there is still the potential for rehabilitation."

Gupta, a 27-year-old who had come from India less than a year earlier on a student visa, was covering a holiday shift at Ken's Groceries when he was gunned down. He managed to stumble to a neighbour's to ask for help, but died in hospital.

The court heard last week that Whiteside and two friends decided to rob a store to get money so they could buy drugs and party. They drove a stolen car to the store and Whiteside and another man went in. Whiteside had a loaded sawed-off rifle.

He pointed the gun at Gupta throughout most of the hold-up but was startled just before leaving the store and pulled the trigger. The single bullet hit Gupta in the chest.

Whiteside was initially charged with second-degree murder but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter. The court heard the robbers made off with between $45 and $65 which they spent on drugs.

In a joint submissions, lawyers asked for a 16-year jail sentence, minus time already spent in custody.

During his court appearance Friday, Whiteside also pleaded guilty to an armed robbery that took place at another family-run Surrey convenience store four days after Gupta's killing. In that incident, at Old Yale Grocery on Dec. 29, three masked men entered the store. The store clerk was ordered on the ground and one man stood on his back, pointing a rifle at him. Two others, including Whiteside, stole $55 and cigarettes.

It was later that evening, when police attended a fight at a burger joint in Surrey, that officers detained Whiteside, who had the loaded sawed-off rifle hidden in his pants. He later admitted it was same rifle used in the robbery of Gupta at Ken's Groceries on Christmas Day.

Whiteside was sentenced to five years (served concurrently to the manslaughter sentence) for the second armed robbery. He is also subject to a lifetime firearm prohibition.

Whiteside's defence lawyer Garry MacDonald acknowledged his client had spent the better part of his life involved with the justice system. It was at age 12, he said, after his abusive step-father left, that his life "went off the rails." MacDonald said though the step-dad was strict, Whiteside felt that at least someone "cared enough to beat him." Several subsequent years in a dysfunctional youth foster care system, said MacDonald, led Whiteside down an almost inevitable path.

Still, he said, Whiteside is not looking for sympathy.

"He's ready to do his time," said MacDonald.

Whiteside's sister Melanie Sweatman said her brother isn't a bad person and would never intentionally kill anyone. She said he wants to serve his sentence and start a new life.

"He is very sorry," said Sweadman. "I hope that the (Gupta) family can heal and maybe one day forgive my brother for what he did, but if not, that's totally understandable."

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