by Sharon Rondeau
(Jul. 12, 2023) — On June 26, Tennessee state inmate Jason Lamar White, who has been housed in New Mexico since 2019, filed a Writ of Error Coram Nobis with the Shelby County, TN Criminal Court, Division III, to report “newly available evidence” he claimed will demonstrate his innocence of the 2016 charges which resulted in a 60-year sentence with no possibility of parole and a $2,000 fine.
As The Post & Email observed and memorialized, the court docketed the filing two days later in White’s online record at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center Portal (SCCJCP), misspelling the word “coram.”A second user captured a different date noted for the filing.
Now 42 years old and having served almost six years of the new sentence for conviction on a non-violent crime, White will be 96 when he is presumably released.
As The Post & Email has reported, in the past White’s record has been changed without explanation, most significantly with regard to the charges levied against him in 2016, when he was completing the last few months of a 21-year sentence for an unrelated conviction. After White was charged in the more recent case, the two “Class E” felonies noted in his online record were upgraded to “Class A” felonies without a new grand-jury indictment, police report or any other documentation. The two lower-level felonies were then indicated as “nolle prosequi” (not prosecuted) and later removed from his record.
According to White’s post-conviction petition, the original charges fell into “Class E” and “Class B” categories, respectively, as presented in the grand-jury indictments.
As of 10:12 EDT Thursday, White’s charge list reads as follows:
Given the evidence of government malfeasance, The Post & Email has referred to White’s drug case as one of “bait and switch.”
According to the Legal Information Institute (LIL), “The writ of coram nobis is a Latin term applied in common law to call to the court’s attention facts that would have changed the judgment but were outside the record and unknown to the court at the time of judgment. The writ of coram nobis is intended to correct a final judgment by the same court in which it was rendered by redressing a fundamental error, such as a deprivation of the right to counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment.”
At the July 2017 trial, White and co-defendant Kristina Cole were found guilty of having devised and/or participated in a scheme to sell methamphetamine in a “drug free zone,” which at the time imposed a mandatory enhancement of their sentences upon conviction.
The law has since been changed to render enhancement optional, prompting Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to grant Cole’s application for clemency late last year. She was released from prison on April 25 after serving nearly six years for a crime she insists she did not commit and for which she intends to prove her innocence.
A third defendant who was initially a defense witness, Montez Mullins, was and remains in prison for previous convictions on unrelated crimes and confessed to sending a package which was delivered to Cole’s home on February 3, 2016 reportedly containing methamphetamine. As Cole stressed during one of her recent interviews with The Post & Email, her address did not match that which was displayed on the box before the Bartlett Police Department repackaged it with a new label and dropped it on her porch.
The new evidence White presented to the trial court late last month consists of an affidavit from Cole dated June 14, 2023 in which she stated that the phone then-BPD Det. Mark Gaia seized from her, searched and utilized while she was under arrest on February 3, 2016 “belonged to Montez Mullins.”
“Montez Mullins gave a statement that the phone number was his and that he was the caller who spoke to Detective Gaia during the 3+ minute conversation after I was arrested and handcuffed,” Cole wrote.
After delays totaling more than two years, White was provided a post-conviction petition hearing in front of Judge Robert “Bobby” Carter, Jr., who had presided over the trials for the three co-defendants. White was unsuccessful in obtaining a recusal from Carter and then-Assistant District Attorney General Christopher Scruggs for having engaged in what White considered “ex parte communication” in a 2016 hearing during which White was not represented and Scruggs uttered judgments about the case and White personally [See May 16, 2016 Transfer Order].
Carter denied White’s petition for relief in an opinion issued on September 15, 2022, two weeks after his official retirement date. The day before retiring, Carter denied Cole’s post-conviction appeal without performing the “finding of fact” the appellate court ordered.
As we reported previously, Jones is noted as the jurist who issued White’s post-conviction petition denial on September 15, 2022, when in fact it was Carter.
Documentation White included with the Writ of Error Coram Nobis (p. 33, last document below) shows the text messages used to incriminate Cole were sent after the BPD left its “controlled delivery” on her doorstep and asserts the BPD’s timeline is inaccurate. In an eyewitness recap of a day’s events at White’s post-conviction hearing last July, White’s mother Kimberly told us:
Jason was able to get Kristina Cole’s arrest ticket as (exhibit 18) on the record and further stated the text messages introduced during trial were unauthenticated. He brought up Gaia’s testimony on Kristina sending Jason text messages after receiving the FedEx package containing drugs when the arrest ticket shows she was booked into jail at 15:30 on 2/3/16. The text messages in reference to the package went out at 15:38, 15;39 and the last text 45 minutes later. Yet Gaia testified that the time they served the search warrant was 3:40.
While Gaia initially denied sending any of the texts, he later changed his testimony to admit having sent one of them.
Gaia has never been reachable for comment, has since left the BPD and is now reportedly working for FedEx. Last year he successfully evaded service on numerous occasions when White’s then-attorney, Shae Atkinson, attempted to have him served to appear at White’s post-conviction hearing.
The entirety of Cole’s affidavit statements reads:
- I was advised not to testify in my case but am coming forward now because I would like to state a few facts I was unable to do so at trial in the case of the events which happened on February 3, 2016 after my arrest at my then home residence of 2552 Jenwood St., Bartlett TN, 38134. I did not speak before out of fear of retaliation because my co-defendant, Jason White, was shipped out of state and I worried that speaking out on my behalf would cause the same to happen to me.
- I hereby certify I did not track the FedEx package that Detective Gaia placed on the porch of my residence of 2552 Jenwood St, Bartlett TN. 38134 on February 3, 2016.
- I hereby certify I did not send text messages from my phone after I was arrested on February 3, 2016. I also attest to the fact that I witnessed Detective Gaia search through my phone, send texts from my phone, and answered my phone talking to the caller in an
aggressive and jeering manner after I was arrested and handcuffed.
- I hereby certify that the number 615-917-3749 on my phone that was the recipient of the texts sent on February 3, 2016 belonged to Montez Mullins. Montez Mullins gave a statement that the phone number was his and that he was the caller who spoke to Detective Gaia during the 3+ minute conversation after I was arrested and handcuffed.
- I hereby certify that my co-defendant, Jason White, had no knowledge of Montez Mullins sending me said package, the nature of its contents or for whom it was intended.
Through a motion docketed June 30, 2023, White asked the appellate court at Jackson, where he had filed an appeal to the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, to “stay” the matter given his new filing with the lower court, but on July 6 the appellate court ruled it would proceed with the issue before it.
Below is White’s complete SCCJCP record as it appeared at 10:17 a.m. EDT on July 13, 2023, in reverse chronological order.
Although continuing to appeal, Cole learned just before Christmas that her petition to Lee for eligibility for early parole was granted; what remained was for the Board of Parole to meet and find in favor of Lee’s recommendation.
As Cole told us in two interviews and an open letter following her release, she is attempting to find work, eventually purchase a car and achieve financial stability following her ordeal of trial, conviction, imprisonment and depletion of all of her personal funds.
Judge James Jones, elected last summer, will preside over any hearing prompted by White’s newest filing.
Notably, Scruggs was reportedly one of two individuals who advocated for Cole’s early parole. Describing it as “kind-of ironic,” Cole told us when she learned of his letter of recommendation: “I had mixed feelings; this was the same man who said I was in league with a whole bunch of gang affiliations and he’s going to give me a recommendation?”