by Sharon Rondeau
(Oct. 5, 2021) — Subpoenas were served to the district attorney’s office, a former local police detective and a number of other material witnesses to appear at an August 27 hearing for Jason Lamar White, a Tennessee convict transferred out-of-state two years ago representing himself in an ongoing appellate process for a 2017 conviction of which he claims he is innocent.
Just before the hearing was to take place, it was rescheduled to November 4.
According to White’s current “elbow counsel,” Shae Atkinson, in August subpoenas were served to 30th Judicial District District Attorney General Amy Weirich and Assistant District Attorney Christopher Scruggs; former Bartlett Police Department Detective Mark Gaia, who was reported by Atkinson at the time to be “evading service”; White’s former counsel, Claiborne Ferguson, who claimed White assaulted him in a courtroom, an allegation disputed by a deputy sheriff present in the room; and Robert Felkner, a public defender who once represented White.
White is asserting that his constitutional rights were violated by the trial judge, Robert “Bobby” Carter, and Scruggs, who pursued the case against him and two other defendants.
In 2016, White was serving the final months of a 21-year sentence for a burglary conviction. In April that year, White was charged with having arranged for a package containing methamphetamine to be delivered from Visalia, CA to his girlfriend, Kristina Cole, who lived in the Bartlett district of Memphis in Shelby County.
Cole, White and a third defendant, Tennessee inmate Montez Mullins, were charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine in a “drug-free zone” where a school was located. In White’s case, as The Post & Email has reported, the charges were altered after the fact.
A single mother of three, Cole had no previous criminal history and claimed to her then-attorney, Michael E. Scholl, prior to trial that she did not know the contents of the package in advance.
The case, #C1702460, went to trial in July 2017, at which time White and Cole entered pleas of “Not Guilty.” Both were convicted, as was Mullins, despite his having submitted written and oral confessions to committing the crime alone.
The cell phone White allegedly used to communicate with Cole to arrange the delivery was flushed down a prison toilet, Kimberly White, Jason’s mother, said, but an examination of the call records was never conducted, a reported she reiterated to radio host David Tulis in a July 2021 interview.
At sentencing in October 2017, White received a 60-year prison term, the longest possible by statutory guidelines, for a crime no one proved he committed and which was based on a statute harsher than the two “Class E” felonies originally invoked.
The two initial charges were not prosecuted, the case record showed in July. However, the record appears to have been altered, with the “Nolle Prosequi” entries no longer present both in August and at the time of this writing. Instead, the record indicates White was charged with two Class “A” felonies involving a “school zone.”
In May 2019, White was pursuing an appeal when he was transferred to New Mexico at Weirich’s recommendation. After arriving, White was provided no access to Tennessee law, his mother Kimberly told The Post & Email. Nevertheless, he filed a post-conviction petition in April 2020 and continued to pursue other legal remedies with the State of Tennessee of which the November 4 hearing is a part.
In May 2020, White requested transport to Tennessee stemming from his self-representation which was denied by a three-judge appellate panel ostensibly because of the “COVID-19 pandemic.”
On June 28, 2021, White filed an “application for extraordinary appeal” in accordance with Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure (TRAP) Rule 10 which the court denied. On July 14, White appealed the decision based on TRAP 39. In a response to the Rule 10 petition, a three-judge panel wrote that because White did not submit an “adequate record” for its review, it denied the application. The panel acknowledged, however, White’s claim that he had not been provided transcripts of the relevant hearings which would have constituted such a record.
On August 16, White filed an “Application for Permission to Appeal” to the Tennessee Supreme Court under Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure Rule 11 which was not acknowledged by the court until September 3. White awaits a decision on that filing.
One of White’s points on appeal was that Gaia’s credibility is impeached. While Gaia claimed to the Shelby County grand jury that Cole sent White text messages about the anticipated drug-filled package, Gaia admitted on the witness stand to sending one of the texts himself. A log of calls sent from Cole’s phone reveals that all three texts were sent while Cole was in police custody and her phone confiscated.
A July 30 screenshot of White’s record from the Shelby County Criminal Justice System Portal showed the two initial charges as not prosecuted (“Nolle Prosequi”):
However, screenshots taken on August 24, 2021 show White’s conviction on charges associated with a “school zone,” a more serious crime, with no reference to the original charges:
The Bill of Indictment indicates charges on the two lower-class felonies:
The Judgment Sheet indicates convictions on the higher-level felonies:
As in the August 24 screenshot, the one below, taken at 6:39 p.m. EDT on October 4, 2021, shows only the two “Class A” felony charges, and the record lacks any reference to the “Class E” “Nolle Prosequi” felonies.
As White is now 40, the five-decade sentence he received at 100% is the equivalent of a life sentence.
Cole was sentenced to 13.5 years in prison and has also to date been unsuccessful in the appeals process.
While preparing for trial, White expressed frustration to and about Ferguson’s representation and denied any involvement in the drug conspiracy.
Documents Ferguson filed on White’s behalf can be read here:
Neither Cole nor White testified at trial, and Mullins’s taped and written confessions were discounted, Kimberly, who was in attendance, said. According to Atkinson, a transfer request was submitted to bring Mullins to Shelby County to appear for the defunct August hearing.
On May 16, 2016, Scruggs went to Carter’s courtroom without White or his representative present and imparted to the judge his version of White’s history and the new charges, causing Jason to accuse both of bias against him after reviewing the transcript.
On May 14, 2020, White filed a motion asking the judge to recuse himself from the case for what White said was “ex parte communication” with Scruggs and “state and federal authorities” which was denied. White has also moved to have the 30th Judicial District recused from the case.
On August 27, the State of Tennessee filed a motion to quash the subpoenas for Weirich and Scruggs, although misstating on page 3 the “defendant” as a retired judge.
In response, White filed a Motion to Compel dated September 9, 2021 stating, in part, “Petitioner states the information/testimony from DAG Amy Weirich is imperative in establishing facts that Petitioner’s attorney Claiborne Ferguson failed to challenge the jurisdiction…”
In an email to this writer regarding her son’s ongoing efforts to obtain justice, Kimberly wrote, “I am concerned for Jason’s life, due to his determination to expose the corruption in this case. It is very clear even to a blind person the misconduct, constitutional violations, false evidence and false testimony these corrupt officials and their parties that assisted in covering and colluding to convict Jason and Kristina. The Judicial parties are just as determined to sweep it under the rug like they have in many other cases.”