Shortly before 6 p.m. on February 27, 1985, George White, vice-president of Townsend Building Supply in Enterprise, Alabama, telephoned the police department to report that he and his wife had been robbed and shot at the company warehouse.
When police arrived, they found Charlene White shot twice in the head and alive, but unconscious. She was dead within minutes. George White was shot in the arm, thigh, and abdomen.
White told police that he and his wife had been confronted by a man with a pistol wearing gloves. The man forced him to open the safe and took $1,800 and then shot them.
In July, 1985, the murder weapon, a .32-caliber pistol, was discovered, covered with dust, behind some boxes in the warehouse. The gun belonged to Oscar Lawhorn, manager of the building supply company, and he said that he discovered it missing from beside his bed a few days after the crime.
At the time of the crime, White, 36, was having an affair with a former employee and after his wife’s death, he collected about $30,500 in life insurance proceeds.
About a year after the crime, Coffee County authorities charged White with killing his wife, shooting himself to make it appear as if they had been attacked. The motive alleged was to collect on the insurance.
Before he was charged, White was interviewed on several occasions by detectives and gave a detailed account, but one was a four hour interview given after he was released from the hospital. That interview was videotaped.
White went on trial in 1987 and the prosecution contended that the superficial wounds White suffered and the execution style shooting of his wife were evidence that he had committed the crime.
During the trial, there was much discussion by the prosecution, the defense and the judge about the videotape and whether the prosecution would seek to put it before the jury.
The trial judge, Terry Butts, told the jury that the prosecution wanted to offer it into evidence and that the tape might or might not contain admissible evidence. He further said that its admission could cause a reversal, but even so the judge was willing to admit the tape if the state requested admission.
“We’ve gone so far beyond the realm of what we all know…is proper...it could absolutely put us all before the bar,” the judge said.
The tape was never offered into evidence by the prosecution. White was convicted by a jury of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
In 1989, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals set aside the conviction, citing a litany of improper remarks by the judge relating to the videotape. The court said, “(w)e are convinced that the judge’s comments constituted error and we are far from convinced that without the insinuations, suggestions, and implications provided by those comments, the jury would have found that the State proved its case against the defendant.”
As White prepared for a second trial, his lawyer discovered an eyewitness who said he saw a man flee the warehouse after the shooting. Further, it was discovered that a wound on the back of White’s wife’s head—which the prosecution contended was caused by White hitting her with the gun before he shot her—was caused when the gurney carrying her to the ambulance collapsed, causing her head to strike the curb.
The case was not retried. The charges were dismissed in 1992.
– Maurice Possley