by Sharon Rondeau
(Oct. 26, 2021) — A 40-year-old Tennessee inmate 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 November 4 in Shelby County, TN, although whether or not he will be able to argue his case in person is as yet unknown.
The hearing for Jason Lamar White, who has been housed in New Mexico since May 2019 and is representing himself, is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. in front of Judge Robert “Bobby” Carter, who White believes is not a neutral arbiter.
A hearing on White’s post-conviction petition was originally scheduled for August 27, 2021, but at the last minute, a transfer order for White to travel to Tennessee was nullified and the hearing “reset.” However, on August 27 the court held a session with White’s “elbow” counsel, Shae Atkinson, and Leslie Byrd, representing the 30th Judicial District prosecutor’s office, to discuss whether or not subpoenas Atkinson issued on White’s behalf would be “squashed” and to set a new date for the hearing.
White has been appealing his case since his October 2017 conviction along with two others: his girlfriend, Kristina Cole, and Tennessee inmate Montez Mullins, who confessed to having arranged for the shipment of contraband from California to Tennessee.
White was relocated to New Mexico while his appeal was in progress at the recommendation of District Attorney General Amy Weirich. White has petitioned both Carter and Weirich’s office to recuse themselves from the case, alleging ex parte communication between them and other violations of his constitutional rights.
Thus far, Carter has refused to recuse the 30th Judicial District or himself. On October 20, 2021, White filed a Second Motion to Recuse with Exhibits alleging Carter “is a material witness in the upcoming evidentiary hearing.”
Carter is due to review White’s renewed request for recusal prior to issuing any other orders, White’s mother, Kimberly, told us on Monday, including whether or not he will be brought back to Tennessee or limited to participating in the hearing by video-conference.
“Petitioner served a subpoena for Judge Robert Carter’s presence via USPS Certified Mail on October 13, 2021…,” White’s filing states. “On October 14, 2021 the subpoena was accepted and signed for by the Registered Agent for Service of Process at the Shelby County criminal Justice Center’s Mailroom…”
White also alleges ex parte communication between Carter and Assistant District Attorney Chris Scruggs, who prosecuted the case.
Curiously, during the August 27 hearing, Carter referred to Kimberly White as her son’s “registered agent,” which Kimberly said neither she nor Atkinson can explain. “Jason asked Mr. Atkinson about the Registered Agent thing, but he never responded,” Kimberly wrote to us in an email.
The case against White 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 the package 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 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. Cole had no previous criminal history.
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 allegedly participating in a “conspiracy” involving the promotion, sale or “manufacturing” of methamphetamine in a “drug free zone.”
Nearly a year later, Mullins was also indicted, but only after White’s then-defense counsel, Claiborne Ferguson, called him as a witness and Assistant District Attorney Christopher Scruggs decided to name him as a co-defendant.
The indictment for White and Cole 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 judicial 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 and allow him or her to serve in that capacity for years and sometimes decades. Vincent was one such grand-jury foreman.
Recorded and written confessions 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 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.
Discovery documents can be found here: https://www.thepostemail.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Jason-and-Kristina-Case-Info188.pdf
In late July, 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 associated with the case, Kimberly 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.”
At sentencing, Mullins received a 30-year sentence, Cole a 13.5-year sentence, and White a 60-year sentence with no possibility of parole.
On October 4, 2021, Carter signed a transfer order for both Mullins and White to appear in person on November 4, but Kimberly has been told since that time by Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) General Attorney Bryce Coatney that “due to the cost to transfer Jason back and the security risk during the transit, if the Judge allowed a Zoom hearing then that would be best.”
Whether in person or remotely, White plans to raise the fact that the two “Class E” felony charges filed against him in June 2016 morphed into two more serious charges with higher penalties.
An alteration of charges was noted in White’s online record at the Shelby County Justice System, with references to the lower charges removed sometime after July 30, 2021.
However, White’s “Judgment Sheet” issued after trial not only incorrectly displays his birth year as 1987 when it should be 1981, but also indicates a conviction on a “Class A” felony.
As The Post & Email reported on October 5, the two “Nolle prosequi” charges disappeared from the SCCJS record for White without explanation.
White pointed out the alteration of the charges in an earlier filing:
White presents his version of events in a post-conviction petition:
White alleges bias and improper communications between Scruggs and Carter which he contends is evidenced in a May 16, 2016 transcript.
Titled, “TRANSFER ORDER,” the transcript reflects an unscheduled discussion between Scruggs and Carter at which neither White nor his “elbow” counsel was present. The third page of the transcript contains an inaccurate 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, 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 provided Carter his version of White’s history, after which the judge replied, “Got a quite a resume…” [sic]
Having expected to be transported to Shelby County, Jason forwarded the documentation he plans to use on November 4 “to Tennessee,” Kimberly told us. If ultimately he is not transported, she said, “everything has to be shipped back to New Mexico if he even receives it in time for the hearing. Jason will not be prepared on November 4 without his documents and will not be able to present evidence,” she said.
In an unscheduled hearing on White’s case on September 21, Atkinson told Carter that White informed him he did not have the necessary transcripts and that he, Atkinson. was not “withholding” them improperly. In response, Carter (the Court) declared, “…I want him to have access to whatever has been provided to him. I mean, I – clearly, I think access to his trial transcript is important.”
However, during a January 27, 2021 hearing, Carter took a different approach when speaking of White (p. 8):
Kimberly denies Carter’s claim that she has been “paying court reporters to transcribe.”
Rather, she said, she is purchasing transcripts already prepared as part of the transcriptionists’ duties. “He is referring to me running up to the court reporter and having to pay 50-75 dollars for transcripts of the court report date conversation due to the fact Carter has denied Jason access to these transcripts that are needed for him to establish what is being said in the courtroom between his elbow counsel, the judge, and DA in reference to his self-representation rights, which are being violated,” she told us. “I know Carter isn’t paying anyone, and Jason is indigent so he should be getting these transcripts at the state’s expense.”
As to whether or not Jason will be transported to attend the hearing in person, Kimberly told us, “My understanding from Bryce Coatney, the General Counsel for TDOC, is it’s Carter’s decision if he is transferred back or not.”
In August 2020, regarding whether or not White would be transported to Tennessee for a contemporaneous hearing, Carter declared:
“Right now we’re still pandemically kind of being controlled by some of this, so I’m less excited about going through the hoops of bringing him back, because I’m – I’m sort of afraid that when I bring him back, I’m stuck with him…”
In an email sent late Monday afternoon, Atkinson told Kimberly that he was told by Byrd and another 30th Judicial District official that “Jason would need to be in Memphis for the hearing and that neither of them had tried to set up the hearing via video…”
“I told the Judge that there was an email chain about switching to an online hearing,” Atkinson’s email continued. “I told the Judge that Jason sent his materials to Tennessee and that both prosecutors thought the hearing should be in person and not online. The Judge said he hasn’t spoken with anyone regarding transportation, but that he was under the impression Jason would be here for the hearing. He went on to say that Jason would need to be here for the hearing regardless – that this is not a hearing that could be done online.”
Update, October 27, 2021, 1:40 p.m.: Kimberly White reported she has been informed that it appears her son will be transported to Shelby County for the hearing.