by Sharon Rondeau
(May 22, 2022) — A “hearing” in Division III of the Shelby County, TN Criminal Court scheduled for May 19 put off until the next day has again been postponed for another six weeks for Tennessee state inmate Jason Lamar White.
White has been seeking a hearing on a post-conviction petition since April 2020, the scheduling of which was delayed purportedly due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic but since then has been repeatedly postponed for unknown reasons.
White pleaded “not guilty” and maintains his innocence regarding his 2017 conviction on two felony charges to distribute methamphetamine in a drug-free zone along with his girlfriend, Kristina Cole, whose post-conviction petition denial by the same judge was recently reversed by an three-judge appellate panel and remanded back to the trial court.
Judge Robert “Bobby” Carter was the presiding jurist over the trials and post-conviction petition hearings for both Cole and White and is reportedly retiring this year.
In his petition, White claimed ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC); ex parte communications between Carter and Assistant District Attorney Christopher Scruggs, the prosecutor; and has cited the fact that the original Class “E” felony charges lodged against him were changed, without a hearing or documentation, to Class “A” felonies carrying higher penalties.
The relevant entries in White’s record at the Shelby County Criminal Justice System portal were removed sometime after July 30, 2021, The Post & Email discovered, leaving only the Class “A” felonies.
At sentencing in October 2017, Carter meted out the highest sentence possible for White: 60 years in prison without the possibility of parole. White is now 41 years of age.
On April 6, White’s “elbow counsel,”* J. Shae Atkinson, told White’s mother, Kimberly White, in an email that Carter said he would reschedule White’s post-conviction hearing “one more time,” with May 19 provided as the date on which it would take place without fail.
*According to the Tennessee courts, “‘Elbow counsel’ is an attorney who functions in a purely advisory role, without actively participating in the trial. A pro se defendant who is permitted such counsel may consult counsel for guidance and advice, but otherwise handles the defense of the case on his or her own.”
However, as the date drew closer and Carter signed no transfer order for White to attend in person to present his case, an arrangement agreed upon early in the scheduling process, Kimberly expressed doubt that Carter would be true to his word.
Complicating the matter is that in May 2019, the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) sent White to New Mexico through an interstate compact, a move Kimberly said was made without a hearing or written determination as to why her son should be housed nearly 2,000 miles away from the prosecuting jurisdiction. In recent weeks, Kimberly related, Jason has experienced significant difficulties with the delivery and dispatching of his “legal mail” and as a result filed a grievance against prison warden David Gonzalez, later escalated to a habeas corpus petition with the federal district court.
The late delivery to Tennessee of his accelerated interlocutory appeal resulted in the court’s denial of it as “untimely,” White wrote in the habeas corpus petition. “The Petitioner states that it would be Logically impossible for anyone to defend, argue, or reach dead Lines [sic] in any Kind of litigation when the state can use the interstate compact to have [the] person removed to a whole different state that has no way to study or find any status laws that could help Assist,” White wrote on page 2 of the habeas, citing the case McKaskle v. Wiggins. “A pro se defendant must be allowed to control the organization and content of his own defense, to make motions to argue points of law, to participate in voir dire, to question witnesses and to address the courts and jury at Appropriate points in the trial.”
The first habeas corpus petition was never received by the court, Kimberly wrote in an email dated May 10, 2022. When she personally called the court on May 9, “they confirmed they had received his second State Habeas Corpus on May 6, 2022,” she wrote.
Almost immediately following the May 20 court session resetting White’s hearing for July 5, his online record was updated and a transfer order signed. As of press time, the notation is the last entry in White’s record.