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Criminal Justice

Casey White, left, and Vicky White

Photos by Lauderdale County Sheriff's Office and US Marshall's Service

Each day, updates reveal even more about the 11 day jailbreak involving Lauderdale County, Alabama Assistant Director of Corrections Vicky White and her incarcerated lover, Casey White. But today, after a short chase in Evansville, Indiana on May 9, Casey White is back in custody and Vicky White is deceased, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

This saga isn’t an escape story. It’s a rape story. And it’s far from over.

Even if Casey White consented to sexual contact with Vicky White in the Lauderdale County, Alabama Detention Center, those dalliances are statutory sexual assault under the Prison Rape Elimination Act or PREA, a federal law enacted in 2003 to impose zero tolerance policies in correctional settings when it came to sexual violence.

While no one has publicly detailed the physical connection between the two while Casey was incarcerated at the jail, the sheriff’s office knows that Vicky White perused sex toys and purchased lingerie at Sugar and Spice Adult Novelties in Florence, Alabama before driving her ward out of custody -- and that Casey White referred to her as his wife when they were caught by federal marshals. Even without a formal wedding ceremony, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the two partook in the activities of a common law marriage.

If Vicky and Casey’s only sexual connection happened on the road to Evansville, it’s still rape. Even escapees have Eighth Amendment rights, or at least so the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held more than 20 years ago. PREA is grounded in the Eighth Amendment’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment. In 1994, in the case of Farmer v. United States, the Supreme Court of the United States found that deliberate indifference to the risk of sexual violence posed to an inmate makes his confinement unconstitutional.

As long as Casey White enjoyed Eighth Amendment protections and Vicky White was employed by Lauderdale County — which she was until May 4, 2022 — intimate contact between them was a criminal act for her, but not for him. Of course, she had long since decided to leave her law-abiding life behind.

The Alabama courts have dissected the state’s escape statutes before. In 1984, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals held that the crime of escape from custody entailed a willful and deliberate choice to leave custody. How those statutes will intersect with PREA is the next inquiry since the federal law eradicated the legal concepts of consent and choice when it comes to romantic or sexual relationships between staff and inmates.

The statutory stripping of inmates of the capacity to consent to sexual activity entails a lack of capacity to agree to go along with whatever activities make that sex possible. If Casey White lacked the power to consent to sexual activity by virtue of being incarcerated, then he also lacked the power to refuse the orders that would place him in a position where Vicky White would have private access to him. That’s the law.

Experts think a PREA defense is possible. Anthony Gangi, former corrections officer/supervisor and author of Correctional Manipulation and host of the YouTube show “Tier Talk” doesn’t discount it: ... because of her position, he's not the one that violated policy. She did and technically would this even be considered escape because he didn't break through any walls? He didn't, you know, climb any fences, you know, he was literally driven out by a staff member.”

The attorney who represented White on the charges for which he’s currently sentenced, Limestone County, Alabama lawyer Dale Bryant, says he doesn’t think his client’s posture in the April 29 video of his exit from the jail suggests he was a willing participant.
The planning of this escape was far too thorough and too far-thinking, and that is not Casey's MO," Bryant told Alabama Live.

Carol Moore, White’s mother, says he couldn’t have pulled this off. “I know that Casey wasn’t the mastermind of anything. She was the brains — we know that for sure,” Moore told the Daily Mail newspaper.

Even the head sheriff in the office that applied for the arrest warrant charging White with escape in the first degree said: “Casey White didn’t escape from the facility; he was basically just let out."

It’s not clear whether Casey has a new attorney yet or not. An email request for an interview to the attorney who represents White in the capital murder case, Jamy Poss, went unanswered.

Whomever White’s attorney may be, he or she will need to dispatch this escape charge quickly. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has held, repeatedly, that escape from custody implies a consciousness of guilt of unresolved charges. Casey White stands accused of capital murder; his life depends on this argument.

Such a defense will require not just more investigation but also closer scrutiny of what we already know Vicky White did. She broke more than just the rule on having two staff members accompany Casey White outside of the jail.

She reportedly asked another staff member to prepare Casey for transport but it’s not clear whether this included the strip search or not; an inqurity sent to the Lauderdale County Detention Center’s public information officer to ascertain this fact remains unanswered. PREA prohibits cross-gender viewing, disallowing female guards from seeing naked male inmates.

Yet Lauderdale County Detention Center transportation policy — updated in 2021 to handle the risk posed by detainees like Casey White — requires that the transporting officer search the people they take out of the jail. If a guard can’t search an inmate, then they can’t or at least shouldn’t be transporting them.

There’s a reason for this, according to Gangi. “When you're handing over an inmate, you're responsible for an inmate, so you're responsible for the strip when you take the inmate. And then usually when you drop off the inmate, the receiving agency or the receiving individual, that responsibility will be dropped. But if I'm picking up the inmate, he's my inmate, I got to do the strip before I put him in my vehicle because it's my responsibility. I can't trust someone else's words. And [Vicky White] would not be in a position to [search Casey White]. That would be a PREA violation."

Vicky may have refused to search Casey to dodge that particular PREA violation, but she erred in not bringing along with them the deputy who actually watched Casey White bend, squat, and cough.

Inevitably, this investigation will pose questions to Casey White about whether he said or did something to his captor, complained to anyone, that Vicky White was doing things to him against his will, including taking him out of the jail where he was ordered to live.
But those questions misunderstand the power imbalance that required a law like PREA in the first place. He was the inmate and she the guard. He had no authority and questioning hers puts him in further jeopardy. Any inmate who’s been subject to an illegal order knows that bind; there’s nothing he could have done, really, without risking more harm.

That still leaves much of the general public wondering which direction this White-on-White crime goes. As a corrections insider, Gangi thinks Casey manipulated Vicky. Judging by comments on news reports, people aren’t united on who’s zooming who down in Lauderdale County. Some think it was Casey but others draw hard lines around Vicky’s authority as a guard, citing her power -- the same power that caused Congress to outlaw the type of relationship that motivated this entire mess.

It’s hard to swallow but the PREA predators are often women; in certain studies, they’re the majority of the perps. Twelve years ago, 62 percent of the claims of sexual abuse by staff were levied against female guards.

The crime that needs the most attention in the case of Alabama v. Casey Cole White is Vicky White’s. If she committed rape, then he didn’t really escape.

Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.

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This is the ninth column in a series about Melissa Lucio and the State of Texas’ capital case against her. Read the first column here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, the sixth here, the seventh here and the eighth here.

The “War of Currents” started as any public battle does. Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse were selling their own electrical systems around the country in typical commercial competition.

Then in 1888 the New York State Assembly decided that the electric chair would be the most humane way to carry out death sentences. Hanging, the legislators thought, was an inexact science in that it resulted in either immediate decapitation or drawn out strangulation.

The new statute amped up the conflict. Edison recommended that the state of New York utilize the electric chair for the country’s first execution and employ Westinghouse’s alternating current system to power it. Edison was hardly ceding ground to a competitor; on the contrary, he wanted the public to associate alternating current systems with killing and view his direct current as clean, contained, and directed toward the preservation of life. He electrocuted dogs to advertise just what he meant.

First up to the chair was William Kemmler; he’d killed his common law wife with a hatchet. His capital trial lasted four days and he was sentenced to death three days after that - only once the state elicited expert testimony from the Wizard of Menlo Park himself, who promised that his own direct current system wouldn’t affect a condemned man’s nerves enough to dispatch him.

Kemmler endured years of appeals, his representation financed by Westinghouse in the hopes that reversal of the death warrant would forestop the marketing of his alternating current in the worst way. But alas Kemmler lost and prepared for the electric gallows, issuing this salvo:

"Gentlemen, I wish everyone all the good luck in the world. I believe I am going to a good place. The papers have been saying a lot of stuff that ain't so. That's all I have to say."

The first jolt, a 17-second long banger, didn’t kill him, though. The next one lasted over a minute and cooked Kemmler. The smell of roasting human flesh drove the prosecutor from the room.

The Edison-Westinghouse feud tells us most of what we need to know about the death penalty; there’s something more important than the souls condemned to die: competitive advantage. The contest between two parties invests them in winning so much that they’ll descend to any moral depths to prevail.

Sentenced to die for the murder of five people at a Wendy’s restaurant where he once worked, John Taylor was the last person on New York’s death row in 2007.

New York had executed exactly 695 people by that point, the last one 44 years earlier, in 1963. From 1972 to 1995, the state lacked a capital punishment scheme; former Gov. George Pataki resurrected it. In 2004, the New York Court of Appeals ruled the state’s death penalty statute was unconstitutional. The State Assembly, the same body that insisted that frying someone could be humane 100 years earlier, couldn’t agree on a capital punishment statute. The law knocked off the books by the seven member Court of Appeals has never been replaced.

And on September 10, 2007, before New York’s highest court in Albany, Attorney Kevin M. Doyle, head of the state Capital Defender Office, and Queens County District Attorney Richard Brown argued over whether the facts of Taylor’s case could cure the statute of its unconstitutionality. The Court of Appeals eventually decided it couldn’t and converted Taylor’s death to life about a month after oral argument.

But the most important issue presented in the Taylor briefs didn’t get aired that September Monday. Among the reasons to keep Taylor on death row, the Queens County District Attorney had claimed that a sanction of death “is not so different that the state courts should . . . suddenly discard the presumptions of good faith that apply to the actions of prosecutors . . . .

To Brown, extermination wasn’t a big enough deal not to take the state’s attorneys at their word.

“And no wonder,” Attorney Doyle, Susan H. Salomon and Barry J. Fisher wrote in their Reply brief. “Better to invoke a deep, presumptive, and usually well-founded respect for New York’s prosecutors than to examine just how often the death penalty, under the 1995 statute, has displaced their sound judgment.

The attorney trio spent the next 40 pages of their 254 page brief demonstrating how district attorneys say a lot that ain’t so. They dissected the fourteen capital prosecutions that had commenced in New York between the death penalty’s return in 1995 to its demise at jurists’ hands in 2004.

In one case, a prosecutor tried to turn the mitigating factor of a lack of a criminal record into an aggravating one, telling jurors: “in fact that the opposite is true. If the defendant had been convicted of crimes in the past, perhaps we can see some sort of explanation for the premeditated killing of [his victims].”

In another, the district attorney soured the fact that the defendant had saved a fellow corrections officer’s life by arguing that it should have made him more sensitive to people who don’t want to die.

In a third, the district attorney ignored a judicial order to bring in evidence that the comparative ballistic lead analysis on a bullet would prove what he intended to prove prior to bringing in the witness to the said analysis. But there was no such hearing on the bullet evidence; the district attorney charged ahead and presented the witness with a quickness. It was wise as she would be charged for perjuring herself in this same type of analysis four years later.

All too convincing is the attorneys’ example of Fox News Host Janine Pirro, Westchester County’s former district attorney, jumping in front of a news camera to declare the shooting of two local police officers a capital crime before she knew what had happened.

The same force that caused former Cameron County, Texas District Attorney Armando Villalobos to misrepresent Melissa Lucio’s life to the jury to assure she died acted on these New York prosecutors. Lucio is first Hispanic woman sentenced to death in Texas in a highly publicized murder trial where her counsel and supporters contend not just that she’s innocent but that no crime ocurred at all.

At this point, it’s probably not possible to cleave professional misconduct from the pursuit of the death penalty. The late Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter predicted this. “I am strongly against capital punishment. . . . When life is at hazard in a trial, it sensationalizes the whole thing almost unwittingly,” he said.

None of the New York prosecutors took false evidence and inserted it into the trial file contravening a judge’s order the way Villalobos did; they likely didn’t have such a decoy to carry out their dishonesty. Instead, they turned the mitigating factors into aggravating ones, inverting the evidence capable of keeping these defendants among the living, all the while courting public support. They turned any advantage into a liability, even if through a lie.

The only solution to legal skullduggery in death-eligible cases is to abolish capital punishment. The death penalty can go out with a bang, be legislatively discarded like it was in Connecticut 10 years ago this month. Or it can leak out of the state’s prisons like New York, where one by one, the condemned vacate their cell-tombs, and walk into the assurance that, if someone takes their lives unnaturally, no judge pre-approved the hit.

Either way it goes, remember that neither bloodlust nor vengeance corrupted capital punishment; those dark thirsts started our nation’s tradition of court-sanctioned barbarism but they didn’t make it what it is. The nature of the public battle did that.

Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.