- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A man accused of trying to hire a former co-worker to kill his pregnant girlfriend by poisoning her with the deadly toxin ricin pleaded guilty to solicitation for murder Thursday and was sentenced to 20 years in prison after tearfully apologizing to the intended victim.

Preston Rhoads, 31, of Oklahoma City, was sentenced after his former girlfriend, Shanisty Whittington, testified that she was emotionally distraught after being told by FBI agents last year that her life had been threatened.

“I had a relationship with this person,” Whittington testified as she fought back tears. “To find out that my life was expendable to him … is devastating. I was almost murdered. That doesn’t just go away.”

Whittington said Rhoads did not react well when she told him she was pregnant and that she believed he was the father. She said she has since learned that he is not the father.

She said she considered having an abortion but later told Rhoads she had changed her mind.

“He immediately started crying,” Whittington testified. “He cried pretty much the entire time that we were talking.” She said he expressed concern about how the baby might alter his lifestyle and his relationship with his family.

“He said he was just overwhelmed,” she said.

Whittington said she sometimes struggles to care for her newborn son and wonders if it might have been best that she had been poisoned.

“It’s a struggle every single day,” she tearfully testified. “Maybe Preston was right. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this.”

Rhoads wept at the defense table as she testified and later told Oklahoma County District Court Judge Timothy Henderson “how sorry I am.”

“None of this was her fault,” Rhoads said. “Nobody needs to be hurt because of me. It was very selfish of me and I was in such a dark place.”

Rhoads’ attorney, John W. Coyle III, said Rhoads was suffering from depression when he asked a former co-worker to help him poison Whittington with ricin that he produced in his home to kill both her and her fetus. The former co-worker notified the FBI and the plot was never carried out.

“I had been thinking suicidal thoughts,” said Rhoads, who also apologized to two Oklahoma City police officers who authorities feared might have been exposed to ricin after they took Rhoads into custody.

Rhoads was carrying a vial of the toxin when he was arrested in April 2014 and hid it in the backseat of the police car. Authorities discovered it a day later after the officers had had already been around their wives and children.

“I’m sorry to everybody in this room today,” Rhoads said. “Nobody should have to be here for this.”

Following the hearing, Coyle said he believed the sentence was “very fair under the circumstances.” Prosecutors had asked for a 30-year prison sentence and Rhoads faced up to life in prison for solicitation for murder. Henderson also imposed a $10,000 fine.

First Assistant District Attorney Scott Rowland said the plot to kill Whittington and her unborn child was “horrendous” and described ricin, a toxin extracted from seeds of the castor bean plant, as “very dangerous, very lethal.”

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