HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Lawyers defending Casey White in his capital murder case have successfully asked a Lauderdale County court for extraordinary expenses to help with his defense.
The defense’s request for the funds was made “ex parte” – on behalf of only one party in a case – meaning they made their request to the judge without telling the prosecution. The practice is permitted by 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 party is unaware of the conversation with the judge who is about to decide the motion,” Gardner said. “And the reason for the rule is that the defendant should be able to develop their theories of the defense of the case, whether it’s insanity, or Atkins – low IQ – something like that, to get that expert assistance, and not letting the state know where we are going.
White is now due to stand trial in December for the 2015 murder of Connie Ridgeway in her Rogersville home. Prosecutors say White sent a letter from prison – where he was serving 75 years for attempted murder – confessing to the crime.
White was due to stand trial in June on that charge, but he and a Lauderdale County jailer fled jail and were captured after an 11-day manhunt. Vicky White died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound as the U.S. Marshals closed in on the pair. Casey White was charged with murder in her death. That trial is also scheduled for December, but that date is likely to be pushed back.
The defense filing asking the court for the funds includes a public filing. This brief does not detail the amount requested by the defense or how it will use the money, but it does specify the legal basis for the request.
The defense, led by Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel, argues in the filing, “It is now well settled that when a state exercises its judicial power over a defendant in a criminal case, it must take steps to ensure that the accused has a proper opportunity to present his defense. In Ake, the U.S. Supreme Court held that when expert assistance is needed to prepare the presentation of a defense, an indigent accused has a constitutional right to the services of this expert at public expense.
Gardner said one element of the extraordinary expense claim may be seeking funds to pay an expert above the going rate the state normally pays, for example, a psychiatrist or an investigator.
White’s defense acknowledges that the basis of its claim must be substantiated, with the rationale stated.
“Thus, a defendant cannot simply request unlimited funds for all experts and expect them to be granted,” White’s attorneys argue. “In order to demonstrate entitlement to investigative expertise or assistance, the defendant must disclose to the court the theory of the defense, the results of any investigation or witness consultation that has already taken place, other work products and the information that is expected of the services sought Obviously, by necessity, this demonstration requires the disclosure of information obtained during interviews between lawyer and client.
And, according to the defense, the prosecution should not have the right to know the defense plans.
“Mr. White’s opponent, the district attorney, should have no more right to disclose the intimate attorney-client discussions that precede the development of the defense strategy than Mr. White should have a voice in which the police are investigating his case or how the prosecution plans to develop its strategy, ”argues the defense.
The request was made on July 18 and was granted on Monday, August 8.
Attorney Gardner said the defense could use the money in a number of ways.
“The categories are virtually limitless, and ex parte funds for a qualified police investigator are a regular part of every case,” Gardner said. “It can come in the form of ‘I need a DNA expert to look at what the state did’, but usually they come, especially in capital murder cases, in the area of mental health and developmental psychology.
Gardner said another use of ex parte funds is to hire a mitigation expert who, if a defendant faces the death penalty, tries to convince the jury to spare their life.
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