by Sharon Rondeau
(Aug. 4, 2021) — A 40-year-old Tennessee man serving a 60-year sentence for a crime to which another inmate confessed is attempting to exercise his due process rights at an upcoming hearing on August 27 in Shelby County, TN.
Jason Lamar White, who has been housed in New Mexico since May 2019, is scheduled for what he hopes will be an in-person appearance as opposed to electronically, in front of Judge Robert “Bobby” Carter, who White believes is not a neutral arbiter.
White has petitioned Carter and the local district attorney’s office to recuse themselves from the case, alleging ex parte communication between them and other violations of his constitutional rights. Thus far, both have refused.
The case arose on February 3, 2016, when a box was dropped on the porch of White’s girlfriend, Kristina Cole, in a “controlled delivery” by Bartlett, TN police. Originating in Visalia, CA on February 2, the package bore a nonexistent Memphis residence on its shipping label. When FedEx in Visalia found the contents questionable, it summoned local police. From there, Det. Adam Collins contacted the Bartlett, TN Police Department, which has jurisdiction over a section of Memphis. The package was reboxed, given a new shipping label bearing the address of the Bartlett Police Department, and shipped overnight to the Bartlett PD.
On February 3, officers from the Bartlett PD brought it to Cole’s home, whose address did not match the one affixed to the original box, and placed it on her porch.
Shortly thereafter, Cole retrieved the package and brought it into the house as police observed from a distance, after which they executed a search warrant on her home and computer, the latter without a warrant.
Cole was then arrested, taken into custody and her phone confiscated, as would be expected.
On April 21, 2016, Cole and White, who was serving his last months of a 21-year sentence at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, were indicted by the Shelby County grand jury for participating in a “conspiracy” involving the promotion, sale or “manufacturing” of methamphetamine in a “drug free zone.”
A third defendant, Tennessee inmate Montez Mullins, was also indicted.
The indictment lists then-Bartlett Police Detective Mark Gaia as the “prosecutor” and notes “Pat Vincent” as foreperson of the Shelby County grand jury.
Since 2009, The Post & Email has reported on Tennessee’s system in which criminal court judges are permitted, contrary to state law, to select the grand jury foreperson from the community at large without a vetting process, then allow him or her to serve in that capacity for years and sometimes decades.
Vincent was a long-running grand-jury foreperson who appeared to share the role in Shelby County with one Mary Thomas, who in 2018 District Attorney General Amy Weirich announced had failed to “follow proper procedure.” Consequently, Weirich dismissed Thomas from her leadership of the “Tuesday” grand jury. An article in The Commercial Appeal appears to support the fact that Vincent, although misidentified as “Jay,” was a grand-jury foreperson at the same time as Thomas.
The Shelby County grand jury reportedly now has different forepersons.
A recorded and written confession from Mullins for allegedly planning the “conspiracy” contended that neither Cole nor White was involved, but both were tried, convicted, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
As Kimberly White told us in an October 2017 interview, during the trial Bartlett Police Det. Mark Gaia testified that Cole had been communicating with White in prison about the package through text messages but on the stand admitted he himself sent the third of three texts from Cole’s phone while she was in police custody. Gaia was also noted as “prosecutor” on Jason White’s indictment.
Discovery documents can be found here: https://www.thepostemail.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Jason-and-Kristina-Case-Info188.pdf
On Thursday, White’s mother Kimberly was interviewed about the case by David Tulis of NoogaRadio in Chattanooga: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=352826222977912&ref=watch_permalink
As to how Jason came to be involved, Kimberly White told Tulis, “They found a picture of my son at the residence, and they started targeting him at that point.” Police initially attempted to incriminate her younger son, Dustin, and his fiancée, who were acquainted with Cole, Kimberly added, although neither was ultimately charged. “Det. Gaia admitted on the stand during cross-examination of Kristine [sic] Cole’s attorney — he admitted to sending the third text message of ‘What do you want me to do with it?’ in an attempt to see who would show up, but it’s very clear, looking at Kristina Cole’s booking sheet, she was booked in at 15:30 hour on February the third; the first text message went out at 15:38 stating, ‘The package has arrived’; the second one went out at 15:39 saying, ‘Lucky it made it here; it has the wrong street address’; and the third one was about 45 minutes later that said, ‘What do you want me to do with it?’” Kimberly said. “Kristina Cole was booked in with her fingerprints on the booking sheet at 15:30 hour. According to the text-message printout by her cellphone, the first text message went out at 15:38, so there was no way that she could have sent the first text message, any of the text messages, because she was in custody. And with Det. Gaia admitting to sending the third text message on the stand, it’s obvious that he sent all three text messages. This evidence was used against my son to say that he had received text messages from Kristina in reference to the package.”
“On a phone that went down the toilet, supposedly,” Tulis responded, to which Kimberly replied, “Yes, sir, and they did not bother to pull any phone records on that number.”
All three defendants in the case were convicted, with Mullins receiving a 30-year sentence; Cole received a 13.5-year sentence with no previous criminal record; and White was given a 60-year sentence with no possibility of parole.
At the hearing on the 27th, White plans to raise the fact that the two “Class E” felony charges formally filed against him in June 2016, as noted in the records of the Shelby County Justice System, were dismissed, and his July 14, 2017 conviction determined on altered charges carrying higher penalties.
All screenshots from SCCJS taken on July 30, 2021
White’s “Judgment Sheet” issued after trial incorrectly displays his birth year as 1987 when it should be 1981 and indicates a conviction on a “Class A” felony. White pointed out the discrepancy in a petition filed October 4, 2017 prior to his sentencing.
White additionally alleges bias and improper communications between Shelby County prosecutor Chris Scruggs and Carter as evidenced by a transcript from May 16, 2016.
While titled, “TRANSFER ORDER,” the transcript reflects an unscheduled discussion between the two at which White was not present. The first page of the transcript contains an illegible year and numerous other errors; the year is stated correctly on page 5.
Beginning by referring to White as “James,” Scruggs identified White as an inmate at Riverbend Maximum Security Prison, calling him a “fugitive” who needed to be transferred to the Shelby County jail for arraignment on the drug-shipment charge.
When Carter responded that he would sign the transfer order, Scruggs said, “Okay. I think the Court will enjoy the facts on this case. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”
Scruggs described the package left on Cole’s porch as “unaccepted” by Cole.
When Carter asked who the shipper of the package was, Scruggs responded, “I think it’d be fun to find –“ according to the transcript. Carter was noted to have responded, “…I guess they could always do the classic surprise – you know – “
Scruggs gave his version of White’s criminal history, after which the judge is noted to have replied, “Got a quite a resume…” [sic]