Sentence in 2017 DUI case reduced

Published 12:11 am Thursday, April 25, 2019

NATCHEZ — A Natchez man’s 20-year sentence in a 2017 DUI incident in which he hit and killed a Natchez woman was reduced to 12 years in a resentencing hearing last week.

District 6-2 Circuit Court Judge Debra Blackwell initially sentenced Gary White to 20 years in prison on March 25 after he pleaded guilty Feb. 27 to manslaughter in the 2017 incident in which he hit a female pedestrian who was crossing U.S. 61 in Natchez.

On March 28, White, under representation of a new attorney, Anthony Heidelberg, filed a motion to reconsider or reduce his sentence, according to court records, on grounds that White’s former attorney did not notify him of an earlier plea arrangement offered by the state.

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Court records state that Assistant District Attorney Tim Cotton, after consulting with the victim’s family, offered a plea arrangement to attorney Alton Peterson, who was representing White at that time.

“The offer was for the defendant to enter a plea of guilty to the felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death … and the state would drop the felony charge of aggravated DUI …,” states the court order dated April 15 allowing withdrawal of the guilty plea. “Mr. Cotton stated that he was surprised that Mr. Peterson quickly rejected the state’s plea offer. … Unbeknownst to the state, Mr. Peterson did not inform or discuss this plea offer with the defendant (White).”

In the interim, another assistant district attorney, Pamela Ferrington, took over the case from Cotton and Farmington said she never discussed the rejected plea deal with Peterson, the court order states.

Ferrington later offered a plea arrangement for manslaughter, which Peterson relayed to White and White accepted, without having known about the first plea offer.

When Heidelberg took over as White’s attorney, he investigated the case and learned that White had never received the first plea offer from Peterson, and Heidelberg filed a motion to reconsider or reduce sentence.

After hearing the evidence, Blackwell signed a sentencing order on April 16 allowing White to withdraw his guilty plea to manslaughter and to enter a guilty plea to felony leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death.

Under the new plea arrangement, Blackwell sentenced White to 12 years with the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with full credit for any time served and to pay all court costs and fees, including a $200 prosecution fee.

At the March 25 sentencing hearing, Blackwell heard testimony from White’s family members and friends vouching for his character and seeking leniency in sentencing him since he had no prior convictions. A pre-sentencing investigation ordered by Blackwell and conducted by the Mississippi Department of Correction revealed no previous convictions or prior record.

After hearing the testimony on March 25, Blackwell handed down the 20-year sentence, saying the punishment was based partly on a lack of compassion White had shown for not calling 911 immediately after the incident and sitting in a nearby Walmart parking lot as law enforcement investigated the case.

White could have faced a maximum of 40-years for the offense. However, some members of the community questioned the length of the sentence, including members of the NAN who planned to protest the verdict on the courthouse steps.

The protest was later canceled.