The Second Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport recently vacated the attempted second-degree murder conviction and 20-year sentence of a Morehouse Parish man who stabbed a friend several times in February 2013.
The Second Circuit reversed Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Carl Sharp who found Thomas Casey White guilty of attempted second-degree murder of Charles Ashlock during a bench trial in June 2015. Sharp also imposed a sentence of 20 years at hard labor, though only the first 10 years were required to be served without benefits.
In his appeal, White argued a review of the court record showed he never waived his constitutional right to a trial by jury, leading the Second Circuit to vacate the conviction and sentence.
Sharp retired from the court last year.
Both defense counsel and the state agree that the latter remedy is more appropriate in this case, particularly since the trial judge who accepted the waiver is retired and several years have passed since the alleged waiver.
Second Circuit Judge Milton Moore of Monroe wrote the May 8 opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel also including Second Circuit Judge Jeff Cox and retired Judge Joseph Bleich, who was serving as an ad hoc judge.
According to the court’s recitation of facts, the stabbing incident occurred Feb. 25, 2013 when White was being driven by Ashlock in a truck in Bastrop.
White told Ashlock, “I’m gonna kill you,” took out a pocket knife and slashed Ashlock’s throat. White stabbed Ashlock several more times as Ashlock tried to defend himself. After the truck went into a ditch, White fled and Ashlock wrapped his neck with a towel to slow the bleeding. A sheriff’s deputy found Ashlock, who said his best friend had stabbed him. Ashlock survived.
Later it was discovered that White was staying with the Ashlock family and that White was schizophrenic. During questioning, White told deputies he had heard the Ashlocks talking about getting rid of something the night before and he assumed they were referring to him.
The Second Circuit ruling noted that court hearing transcripts showed that Sharp asked the district attorney’s office twice whether the prosecution was satisfied that White had waived his right to a jury trial. The district attorney’s office confirmed twice that it was satisfied that White had waived his right to a jury trial.
Later, when White appealed, arguing that he had not made a “free and voluntary” waiver, the district attorney’s office conceded that White had not given a valid waiver.
“Our review of the record confirms that there is no evidence whatsoever of a valid waiver of White’s right to trial by jury,” stated the Second Circuit’s ruling.