District Attorney's Office Issues Statement on Whitaker Conviction

May 13, 2022 - A Shelby County jury returned two guilty verdicts and one not guilty verdict on May 11, 2022, in the trial of Zenas Montre Whitaker. Whitaker was charged with Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Aggravated Kidnaping, and Aggravated Sexual Assault. The case was tried in the 273rd Judicial District Court, Judge Jim Payne presiding. Testimony began Monday afternoon and continued throughout Tuesday and part of Wednesday with both the State and the Defense presenting witnesses. After deliberating a little over an hour, the jury returned guilty verdicts for the charges of the Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon and Aggravated Kidnapping. The jury returned a not guilty verdict on the Aggravated Sexual Assault. That same jury, after hearing more evidence about Whitaker’s criminal history in the Punishment trial, assessed punishment for the Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon at 60 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division, and a $10,000 Fine and 45 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division for the Aggravated Kidnapping. Zenas Whitaker was represented by Marshall, Texas attorney Craig Fletcher, and the State of Texas was represented by Karren S. Price, Shelby County District Attorney, and Lynda K. Russell, Assistant District Attorney along with the assistance of Shawna Walker, Legal Assistant to the District Attorney.

On July 7, 2020, Whitaker broke into his ex-girlfriend’s home about noon and proceeded to beat her with an aluminum bat from which the end had been broken, creating jagged and sharp edges on the fat end of the bat. He also kicked her and even bit her. She was in the home with five children, all under the age of six, and all of this occurred with the children in the room watching. The photos of the crime scene were very graphic as there was blood everywhere, all over the floor, on the walls, on the furniture and even on some of the children. After beating her, per his testimony, he took their daughter who was two years old and the bat and headed to Nacogdoches County where he had lived most of his life. He further testified he left the baby’s mother there, believing she was not going to live, and knowing that he had also left four children there with her under the age of six, one of them being an infant. The victim reported that he had taken her cell phone which prevented her from being able to call for help.  He testified that while he was driving through the Martinsville area, he threw both his cell phone as well as the victim’s out the window in an attempt to keep the police from finding him.  

The Center Police Department reached out to law enforcement in Nacogdoches County and an Amber Alert was issued for the missing child who was only two years old. The Nacogdoches Sheriff’s Office, the Nacogdoches Police Department, the Texas Rangers and the FBI all assisted in the search for the child and Whitaker. Whitaker was located in Cherokee County, Texas. When the Nacogdoches County SWAT team had the home surrounded where they believed Whitaker to be, he came out of the home after they requested on a bullhorn that he surrender.  The child was returned to her mother’s family as her mother was in the hospital being treated for the severe beating she had taken at the hand’s of Whitaker.

District Attorney Price proved that only a few weeks prior to the beating that occurred on July 7, 2020, Whitaker had sent multiple texts to the victim, threatening her, to the extent that the officer said it was obvious he was going to try to kill her. Both Ms. Price and Ms. Russell presented evidence that indicated Whitaker had been in trouble many times because of his violent nature. In fact, he was only 11 years old when he was charged with Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon. Over the years after that, he was in trouble numerous times in Nacogdoches County for various crimes, several for which he was convicted, again involving assaultive behavior. Ms. Price told the jury that Shelby County would not tolerate this type of behavior in our community and that we were going to do something about it. She also said that law enforcement had done their job, her office had done theirs, and that the efforts had been made by all up to this point and now the outcome of those efforts were in the hands of the jury. She was very thankful that the jury took her words to heart and returned the verdicts that sent the message she wanted “Shelby County Will Not Tolerate This Type Of Behavior.”

Price contributes the verdicts to the hard work of the officers at the Center Police Department, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, the Nacogdoches Sheriff’s Office and Police Department, the Texas Rangers and the FBI and their ability to all work together to try to protect the citizens of Shelby County.