Prosecutors still consider teen suspect in mom's shooting
Charges dropped after judge rules teen's statement was wrongly obtained
By GARY McELROY
A teenager who incriminated himself in the crime of shooting his mother in the head while she slept, no longer faces a charge of attempted murder -- or any charge -- in connection with the shooting.
After a judge ruled last week that the statement Earlis White gave investigators was illegally obtained, prosecutors this week decided they had no case against him and dropped the charges.
"Without a confession, the state did not have enough evidence to proceed," Assistant District Attorney John Furman said Thursday.
Furman said White's statement was often vague and "tended to incriminate him without his actually ad mitting to the shooting, (but) without it, all we had was his presence in the house."
The case began on Nov. 4, 2001, when White, 18 at the time, called police to report that his mother had been shot.
Cleopatria White, 45, survived being shot with a .45-caliber slug but lost an eye, and her face remains disfigured.
According to testimony before Cir cuit Judge Herman Thomas on June 4, after hearing about the shooting, White's sister, U.S. Army Capt. Charlene White-Long, rushed back to Mobile from her Texas military base, only to find that her own brother was the accused.
After visiting her mother in the hospital, White-Long, a lawyer in the Army's Judge Advocate General's office, informed Mobile County Sheriff's department investigators she wanted to talk to her brother -- as his attorney, not his sister -- but they refused.
White told Judge Thomas that he repeatedly asked sheriff's investigators Paul Burch and Dale Kohn for permission to call his sister, but those requests were turned down as well.
It wasn't until after her brother had already made what investigators characterized as a confession to the shooting that White-Long was able to see him, she told Thomas.
White also testified at the hearing that investigators promised him his statement about what happened in his Mauvilla Drive home would only be used against him if he didn't tell the truth.
Another promise, White said, included the assurance that authorities would allow his mother to decide whether to bring charges against him.
Cleopatria White has remained adamant throughout the case that it was not her son who shot her and that based on his character, he was incapable of such a thing, Furman said.
Those investigators' promises, which apparently helped goad White into incriminating himself, made whatever he said inadmissible in court, White's Mobile attorney Arthur Madden argued before Thomas.
Thomas did not explain why he made the ruling to suppress White's statement.
Madden said Friday that despite White's request to see his sister and assurances from investigators to White-Long that she could see him, the siblings were intentionally kept apart. Madden also said that while investigators were questioning White, they kept the location of the interview from her.
"They made a determination that because his lawyer was also his sister, she could not serve as his counsel," Madden said. "That was not their determination to make."
The result of the events six months ago, which resulted in Thomas' decision last week, left Furman this week with nowhere to go.
"The job of this office is to vigorously prosecute when we have a case," Furman said, "but we also have a duty not to proceed when the evidence is legally insufficient."
Furman made a motion to dismiss the case, and Thomas granted that motion this week. Furman did say that while White is no longer a defendant, he remains a suspect.
"Obviously, someone shot this woman while she slept in her bed," Furman said. "Our file remains open. Because his statement was suppressed does not mean he is not still a suspect, but in order for this case to proceed, further evidence will have to be developed."
The prosecutor said his office "has referred the case back to the sheriff's department."
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