by Sharon Rondeau
(Apr. 6, 2022) — A rescheduled April 7 hearing in Shelby County, TN for inmate Jason Lamar White on a post-conviction petition has again been postponed and transfer orders canceled.
On April 7, Judge Robert Carter will reportedly set a new date “one more time,” according to White’s elbow counsel, Shae Atkinson, in a March 22 email to White’s mother, Kimberly.
The Post & Email has termed the case against White a “bait-and-switch scheme” since he was initially charged with two Class “E” felonies which were later removed from his record, only to be replaced with two Class “A” felonies carrying harsher penalties. To The Post & Email’s knowledge, there exists no documentation as to why the charges were altered and the original charges removed from White’s electronic record at the Shelby County Criminal Justice portal.
In May 2019 White was sent to New Mexico while he was appeal his conviction. His rendition occurred without a hearing or an opportunity for White to appeal the decision, Kimberly said. “Jason had a right to a pre-transfer hearing and the right to appeal Tennessee’s decision to transfer him out of Tennessee which Jason was never given a hearing or advised of rights to appeal the transfer,” she told us. “If Jason had been given a pre-transfer hearing it might have been noted he was in his appeal process and prevented Tennessee from sending him out of state.”
Transfer orders signed by the presiding judge are necessary for White and any witnesses to be brought to Shelby County.
In New Mexico, Kimberly said, her son has not had access to Tennessee law to prepare his filings and has also experienced difficulty receiving legal mail.
District Attorney General Amy Weirich played a role in White’s relocation, having recommended the move in a letter to the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) based on a vague allegation that he posed a threat to the prosecutor in the case, Christopher Scruggs, and White’s former defense attorney, Clairborne Ferguson.
Ferguson had accused White of assaulting him during a courtroom consultation, but the supervising deputy disputed the accusation, which was never prosecuted.
Weirich is documented as having committed the highest number of “ethical violations” in a study encompassing four states over a five-year time frame. In 2017, Weirich was privately reprimanded by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (BOPR) for withholding evidence from the defense and inappropriate conduct in the courtroom directed toward defendant Noura Jackson, the defendant whose manslaughter conviction was later overturned.
In his post-conviction petition, White claimed Ferguson did not adequately represent him and that the prosecution failed to disclose “evidence favorable to defendant.” On two occasions White filed motions for Carter to recuse himself based on what he believes to have been ex parte communication between Carter and Scruggs in a May 2016 hearing where neither White nor Atkinson was present.
Thus far, Carter has refused to recuse himself.
White’s requests for the prosecutor’s office, in its entirety, to recuse itself from the case have been refused.
In his March 22 email to Kimberly White, Atkinson stated he had received a call from the Shelby County criminal court claiming that Jason had contacted court administrators to inform them that he “didn’t want his hearing on April 7 because Mr. Gaia has not been served and that he requested a new hearing date.”
“Mr. Gaia” is former Bartlett Police Department detective Mark Gaia, who Atkinson has reported is “evading service” from a subpoena issued to him on White’s behalf. Court records show that Gaia, noted on the indictment as “prosecutor,” ultimately admitted to sending at least one of three text messages from the phone of White’s co-defendant, Kristina Cole, while she was in police custody.
The texts were used to incriminate Cole and later White in the alleged scheme to distribute methamphetamine in a “drug free zone” through a package dropped on the porch of Memphis resident Kristina Cole.
White’s indictment came in April 2016 while he was completing a 21-year sentence on an unrelated crime. The package said to have contained methamphetamine mysteriously originated in Visalia, CA and was relabeled during transit, then left on Cole’s porch in a “controlled delivery” by the Bartlett Police Department.
With the 2017 conviction on the new charge and maximum sentence of 60 years without the possibility of parole, at 41 years of age White is a prisoner for life.
Convicted at the same time as White, Cole has appealed her conviction as well as filed a post-conviction petition.
Also according to Atkinson’s email, as part of his decision to postpone the April 7 hearing, Carter asked that White “do an affidavit listing why Mark Gaia is needed as a witness, what he expects the testimony to be, and how it is relevant to his post-conviction.”
Attached to the email was a revocation of White’s transfer order as well as that of a third defendant, West Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP) inmate Montez Mullins. After White and Cole were arrested and Mullins identified as a defense witness, Mullins confessed to having committed the crime alone, after which Scruggs prosecuted him.
In an email sent to this writer approximately two hours after she received Atkinson’s March 22 email, Kimberly wrote, “Jason did speak with Judge Carter’s secretary with me on the phone. He advised Bertha Hardaway, secretary to Judge Carter that he did not want his hearing continued to be put off. That he was ready to present his case and that Mark Gaia’s subpoena had not been served and he needed Mark Gaia present at this hearing to establish his IAC (ineffective assistance of counsel) claims against Ferguson.”
“Mark Gaia was the state’s key witness and the only witness to the material evidence in this case,” Kimberly added. “Every time his hearing is rescheduled subpoenas are supposed to be reissued and served. It just further confirms the court’s personal interest in this case and their continued efforts to restrain his rights in his appeal process. If everything was on the up and up in this case, the courts wouldn’t prolong the post conviction proceedings. Their actions clearly speak loud.”
It remains unknown why Atkinson was told White wanted the hearing delayed yet Kimberly attests that her son expressly stated he opposed the move.
The Post & Email reached out to Atkinson for comment but did not hear back by press time.