by Sharon Rondeau
(Aug. 31, 2023) — On June 26, 2023, a Tennessee inmate currently housed in a New Mexico prison on Tennessee’s behalf submitted to the Shelby County, TN Criminal Court a Writ of Error Coram Nobis, presenting what he claimed was “newly discovered evidence” gleaned only recently from one of his co-defendants at trial, Kristina Cole, on drug-related charges.
In late April, Cole was released on parole from her 13.5-year prison sentence, although she remains under probation restrictions for the next eight years. Her parole was granted after a change in an applicable law was noted by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who recommended Cole for early parole eligibility.
Since her release, Cole has detailed her ordeal in two interviews with The Post & Email as well as an open letter stating her version of events beginning with her arrest on February 3, 2016 following her retrieval of a package left on her doorstep by the Bartlett Police Department.
The newly-created Justice Review Unit for Tennessee’s 30th Judicial District, which includes Memphis and greater Shelby County, last month declined to review Cole’s conviction. She continues to advocate for her innocence and just recently filed her own Writ of Error Coram Nobis.
White remains in prison for conviction on charges of participating in a scheme with Cole and Tennessee inmate Montez Mullins to manufacture, sell and distribute methamphetamine in a “drug free zone” encompassing an elementary school. Along with Cole, he has professed his innocence throughout and filed numerous appeals, one of which remains active outside the Writ filed with the trial court.
Two years ago The Post & Email found a part of White’s online record reflecting he was initially accused of lower-level, “Class ‘E'” felonies rather than the “Class ‘A'” felonies for which he was convicted was removed without explanation, leaving only the entries for the more serious charges. In his record as of this writing, the charges brought to trial are shown as two counts of TCA (Tennessee Code Annotated) 39-17-417.
Other curious notations in White’s record include his post-conviction petition hearing, held in July of last year in Carter’s court, entered as “taken under advisement” and Jones as the jurist denying post-conviction relief two months later when the opinion was signed by Carter.
While at trial Mullins submitted a confession stating White and Cole were uninvolved in the alleged conspiracy, all were convicted. Mullins had been serving lengthy sentences for past criminal convictions and received 30 more years for his alleged role in the scheme, while White, who was completing a 21-year sentence on an unrelated offense at the time, received the harshest sentence of six decades in prison, a $2,000 fine and no eligibility for parole.
Carter presided not only over the 2017 trial, but also subsequent post-conviction petitions submitted by Cole and White. Both additionally filed direct appeals to higher courts which were denied. Likewise, Carter denied all appeals. When the appellate court at Jackson remanded Cole’s post-conviction petition appeal to Carter to conduct further “finding of fact,” he declined to follow the order and denied Cole a hearing the day before retiring on August 31, 2022.
Paradoxically, Carter issued an opinion in White’s case on September 15, 2022, two weeks after his retirement.
Last month, Carter was “hired” by Shelby County Mayor Jim Strickland, The Daily Memphian reported, to complete an “efficiency study” of the courts. On August 28, The Memphian and The Commercial Appeal reported he is earning $200 hourly in the position.
In his June 26 Writ, White asserted that an affidavit Cole provided stating that the detective who searched her home on February 3, 2016 testified falsely at her trial about text messages sent from her phone while she was in police custody was “newly discovered evidence” which should grant him a new trial.
Then-Bartlett Police Department Detective Mark Gaia later reversed himself, admitting to sending “one” text message from Cole’s phone, believing he would engage others involved in the alleged crime.
In her open letter regarding her arrest and incarceration, Cole wrote she perceives that the government’s goal in prosecuting her was to implicate White. “It became clear in my mind that the attorneys were working against me and not for me,” she wrote on May 19. “I released my first attorney and hired another who seemed more compelled to assist me. What followed over the next several months seemed to be a repeat of my first experience. Instead of proving my innocence, it seemed as if my whole case became more of a ‘witch-hunt’ aimed at my boyfriend, Jason White. I was even told that it was not me ‘they’ wanted, but Jason. After spending months attempting to stay in contact with my attorney and pushing for certain motions to be filed, I accepted that once again I had no one to truly fight for ‘me.’ My case had become more aimed at convicting Jason and unfortunately, I was now along for the ride! I was constantly encouraged to testify against Jason even though he had no knowledge of the package. Mullins had continuously attested to the fact that Jason didn’t know what he had planned and that I was unaware of the contents of the package.”
Judge James Jones, Jr. disagreed with the premise of White’s filing, writing in his three-page opinion:
…A writ of error coram nobis may be granted when the petitioner establishes the existence of newly discovered evidence relating to matters litigated at trial. T.C.A. 40-26-105; State v. Mixon, 983 S.W.2d 661, 668 (Tenn.1999). In order to be considered “newly discovered evidence,” the proffered evidence must be (a) evidence of facts existing, but not yet ascertained, at the time of the original trial, (b) admissible, and (c) credible. In addition to describing the form and substance of the evidence and demonstrating that it qualifies as “newly discovered evidence,” the [petitioner] must also demonstrate with particularity (3) why the newly discovered evidence could not have been discovered in a more timely manner with the exercise of reasonable diligence; and (4) how the newly discovered evidence, had been admitted at trial, may have resulted in a different judgment. Id. at 672. Before the petitioner is entitled to relief, he must establish when the trial court must find that a reasonable basis exists for concluding that, had the evidence been presented at trial, the results of the proceeding might have been different. State v. Vasques, 221 S.W.3d 514, 527 (Tenn. 2007).
In considering whether to set a hearing on this Writ of Error Coram Nobis, the Court must establish the existence of “newly discovered evidence” of which a hearing would be warranted. Following the factors set out in Mixon, the Court finds that the Petitioner has failed to satisfy these factors and therefore the Writ for Coram Nobis is hereby DENIED without a hearing.
Without citing the number of the statute, Jones summarized that White was convicted on violations of “Conspiracy to Promote Manufacture Methamphetamine, a Class A felony.” As noted in our previous reporting, the statutes cited in White’s (and Cole’s) indictment are TCA (Tennessee Code Annotated) 39-12-103 and 39-17-434.
The word “conspiracy” does not appear in the statute Jones referenced, which is noted as a “Class ‘D'” felony, and the law’s history indicates it has not been altered since 2011.
However, as stated in TCA 39-17-417, a certain amount of methamphetamine or other drug distributed or sold or “conspiracy” to do so elevates a lower-class felony to a “Class ‘A'” felony.
As The Post & Email reported on October 5, 2021, the two “Class ‘E'” felonies with which White was initially charged were at designated “Nolle Prosequi” (not prosecuted) with “no Court Costs” and later disappeared from his record.
The “Class ‘A'” felony charges include “delivering” and “selling” methamphetamine in addition to its “manufacture.” In his opinion, Jones stated White was “convicted of Conspiracy to Promote Manufacture Methamphetamine,” which refers to the “Class ‘E'” felonies with which White was originally charged rather than the “Class ‘A'” felonies to which they were mysteriously elevated with the addition of “delivering” and “selling” of the drug.
White has brought to the courts’ attention the fact that his charges were altered, as evidenced in the Capias signed by Court Clerk Richard DeSaussure III, without a new trial, indictment, or any other documentation, to no avail.
On August 9, The Memphian reported that Jones was “reprimanded for writing character letters for defendants in a Florida wire fraud case.” The report stemmed from an announcement at Tennessee’s Board of Judicial Conduct of a “public reprimand” dated August 1, 2023 stating, in part, “On March 13, 2023, you wrote letters on behalf of two defendants convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. In the letters, you vouched for the defendants’ character and asked the court to ‘show mercy in its sentencing’ for persons whom you and your spouse ‘had the privilege to call friend.’ The letters were written on official court stationery, you identified yourself in the body of the letters as a ‘Criminal Court Judge in Memphis, Tennessee,’ and you signed the letters as ‘Hon. James Jones, Jr.’ You allowed your spouse to sign the letters as well. The letters did not disclose to the court that your spouse had been named a party with the defendants in a civil case stemming from the defendants’ criminal activity.”