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Woman pleads guilty to robbery that led to restaurant owner’s death

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By Caroline Curran, Reporter

BOLIVIA—Two men have been convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the 2007 murder of Oak Island restaurateur Phillip Cook, and last month, another co-conspirator pleaded guilty to her role in the robbery that led to Cook’s death.

Whitney Jenkins, 23, pleaded guilty to robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon on June 3. Superior Court Judge Thomas Lock sentenced Jenkins to four years in prison to five years, seven months in prison for the robbery and conspiracy charges, assistant district attorney Lee Bollinger said.

Jenkins, who testified for the state in the murder trials of James Dean Martin and Joshua Caudill, has been serving a three-year sentence for a trafficking methamphetamine conviction since August 2008.

The sentence for the robbery will begin at the expiration of the methamphetamine sentence, Bollinger said.

In June, a Brunswick County jury convicted Caudill, 21, of first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon. Lock sentenced Caudill to life in prison without parole for the first-degree murder charge and another 51-plus months in prison for the robbery and conspiracy charges, Bollinger said.

In April 2009, a Brunswick County jury convicted Martin, 22, of first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Superior Court Judge D. Jack Hooks Jr. sentenced Martin to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Cook, the 48-year-old owner and operator of Island Way Restaurant on Oak Island, was found dead on the front porch of his NW 25th Street home July 9, 2007.

Jenkins testified to the events of the July 9, 2007, murder during Martin’s and Caudill’s trials.

According to her testimony, all four suspects—Caudill, Martin, Jenkins and Amber Wood—were living together at 147 NW 10th St. in Oak Island when Cook was robbed and murdered.

Jenkins knew Cook from the Island Way Restaurant, where she worked as a server from August 2006 until January 2007. Knowing he owned the restaurant and knowing his schedule and home address from a personal relationship, Jenkins said she, Woods, Caudill and Martin conspired to rob Cook one evening “once it got dark.”

“We were talking about getting money for drugs and rent. I knew he had money. We were all using heroin and marijuana,” Jenkins said. “They thought it was a good idea.”

On the evening of July 8, 2007, the four suspects waited for the shield of darkness before Wood and Jenkins dropped off Caudill and Martin at 23rd Street, where they were to wait for a call saying Cook had left his restaurant.

Wood and Jenkins stalked Cook at the restaurant while Martin and Caudill waited for Cook at his home—each armed with wooden bedposts as weapons, she said. After the robbery and murder was alleged to have occurred, Jenkins said Martin and Caudill called Wood to be picked up.

Though she didn’t remember who said it, Jenkins testified one of the male suspects said, “We knocked him out,” when they got into the car.

During Martin’s murder trial, Bollinger said Cook was beaten on the back of the head and suffered a cracked skull.

The four suspects stole $560 from Cook, which they spent the next day on heroin, Jenkins testified.

Wood has been charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon and methamphetamine charges, Bollinger said. She is out on bond awaiting trial.