HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Attorneys defending Casey White in his capital murder case have successfully petitioned a Lauderdale County Court for extraordinary expenses to assist in his defense.
The defense’s motion for the funds was done “ex parte” — on behalf of just one side in a case – meaning they made their request to the judge without notifying the prosecution. The practice is allowed under the law, and Huntsville defense attorney Bruce Gardner, who is not involved in White’s defense, explained the process to News 19.
“Ex parte, of course, means the other side is not privy to the conversation with the judge who is about to rule on the motion,” Gardner said. “And the reason for the rule is that the defendant ought to be able to develop his theories of the defense of the case, whether it be insanity, or Atkins – low IQ – something like that, to get that expert assistance, and not let the state know where we’re headed.”
White is now due to go on trial in December in the 2015 killing Connie Ridgeway at her home in Rogersville. Prosecutors say White sent a letter from prison – where he was serving 75 years for attempted murder – confessing to the crime.
White was set to go to trial in June on the charge, but he and a Lauderdale County jailer fled from the jail and were captured after a 11-day manhunt. Vicky White died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound as U.S. Marshals were closing in on the pair. Casey White has been charged with felony murder in her death. That trial is also set for December, but that trial date is likely to be pushed back.
The defense’s filing petitioning the court for the funds includes a public filing. That filing doesn’t detail how much the defense is seeking, or how it will use the money, but it does spell out the legal basis for the request.
The defense, led by Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel, argues in the filing, “It is now well established that when a state brings its judicial power to bear on a defendant in a criminal case ‘it must take steps to assure that the defendant has a fair opportunity to present his defense.’ In Ake, the United States Supreme Court held that where the assistance of an expert is needed to prepare to present a defense, an indigent defendant has a constitutional right to the services of that expert at state expense.”
Gardner said one element of the extraordinary expense request can be seeking funds to pay an expert above the going rate that the state normally pays, for example, a psychiatrist or investigator.
White’s defense acknowledges that the basis for its request has to be justified, with the justification spelled out.
“Thus, an accused cannot simply ask for unlimited funds for any and all experts and expect that they will be granted,” White’s lawyers argue. “In order to demonstrate his entitlement to an expert or investigative assistance, the defendant must reveal to the court the theory of the defense, the results of any investigation or witness consultation that has already taken place, other work product, and the information that is anticipated from the services sought. Obviously, of necessity, this showing requires disclosure of information obtained in attorney-client interviews.”
And, the defense argues, the prosecution should not be entitled to the know the defense’s plans.
“Mr. White’s adversary, the district attorney, should have no more right to disclosure of the intimate attorney-client discussions that precede the development of the defense strategy than Mr. White should have a voice in which police officers investigate his case or how the prosecution plans to develop its strategy,” the defense argues.
The request was made July 18 and was granted Monday, Aug. 8.
Attorney Gardner said there are a number of ways the defense can use the money.
“The categories are virtually limitless, and ex parte funds for a trained police investigator are routinely part of all the cases,” Gardner said. “It can come in the form of ‘I need a DNA expert to look at what the state did,’ but generally speaking they come, especially in capital murder cases, in the mental health, development psychology realm.”
Gardner said another use of ex parte funds is to hire a mitigation expert, who — if a defendant is facing the death penalty — tries to convince the jury to spare his life.