A divided three-judge state appeals court panel ordered Monday that a Donaldsonville man serve his original two-year prison sentence from a July 1995 negligent homicide conviction in Ascension Parish, overturning a district court ruling last year that had suspended the sentence.
Stanley White, 39, 503 Vatican Drive, pleaded guilty in July 1995 to the reduced charge following an alcohol-related crash on Airline Highway near Gonzales that killed a 10-week-old St. Amant girl in mid-1994.
But even after an appeals court affirmed the negligent homicide conviction in February 1997, White never was called to serve his time in prison.
And since, White, who was 19 at the time of the accident, has earned a college degree, has held a job, and has never again been in trouble with the law.
The case resurfaced last year, but in May 2013, Judge Jessie LeBlanc of the 23rd Judicial District suspended White’s two-year sentence and gave him two years of probation. The 23rd JDC encompasses Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes.
Writing for the 2-1 majority Monday, Judge James E. Kuhn of the Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal said LeBlanc lacked the authority to modify White’s sentence.
Kuhn noted the original sentence had been affirmed by the appeals court — a ruling that was not appealed to the state Supreme Court — and execution of sentence had begun years before LeBlanc ruled.
“We conclude that the district court lacked jurisdiction and authority and was without a procedural mechanism to modify the original, legal sentence,” Kuhn wrote.
In dissent, Appeals Judge Toni M. Higginbotham found that LeBlanc fashioned an appropriate sentence, given the unusual circumstance and the lapse of time.
Higginbotham noted that since the crash White has earned a bachelor’s degree and real estate license, has a full-time job and has not been arrested again. White also never received notice to report to the Sheriff’s Office after his trial and appeal.
“The record reveals that Mr. White has been a model citizen for twenty years, has established himself in the community, and has avoided further problems with the authorities, thereby demonstrating his capacity to rehabilitate himself in a non-custodial setting,” Higginbotham wrote. “In this case, due process and fundamental fairness support the judgement of the district court.”
Appeals Judge Mitchell R. Theriot concurred with Kuhn that LeBlanc lacked the authority to change White’s sentence but wanted the case sent back to LeBlanc for more argument.
At the time LeBlanc suspended White’s sentence on May 3, 2013, she ruled that too much time had passed for White to serve his original two-year prison sentence without violating “fundamental principles of liberty and justice.”
The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, which had taken over the case from District Attorney Ricky Babin, had argued that White owed the killed infant, Brittany Deville, and her surviving family 24 months in prison.
“He owes it to this dead girl, and he owes it to her family,” Assistant Attorney General David Weilbaecher Jr. told LeBlanc at the May 3, 2013, hearing.
“That’s why we’re here, to make certain he pays the price for what he did wrong. He never had to pay the price.”
White had crashed into a vehicle carrying Brittany and her family on July 31, 1994. Brittany, who was unrestrained, was thrown from the vehicle and later died. White had a blood-alcohol content of 0.09 percent, which at the time was lower than the state’s threshold for presumptive drunken driving.
“The 1st Circuit has ruled in our favor today and ordered that he (White) serve that sentence, as we thought he should have in the beginning, so we’re very happy with their decision,” said Kurt Wall, who worked the case with Weilbaecher and is director of the AG’s Criminal Division.
Wall said the next step will be to make sure the District Court is aware of the ruling, “and we will ask that the original sentence be executed immediately.”
White’s attorney, Steven Moore, did not return a message for comment at his office Monday evening.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter at @NewsieDave.