October 8, 2013
The two-week murder trial of Taybronne White concluded Tuesday in Greene County with the jury recommending White serve 76 years in prison. Less than 24 hours earlier, that same jury found White guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Lisa Hwang, and guilty of second-degree murder in the deaths of Dustin Knighton and Brian Daniels.
The father and stepmother of Daniels were in court for the ruling and said they finally felt closure. "Brian had a wonderful heart, he was a good man," said Karen Daniels.
Prosecutors say White shot and killed his three friends after a botched home invasion robbery and dumped their bodies on Octonia Road in the early hours of May 3, 2011.
"We as humans all make bad decisions," Daniels said. "One bad decision, as I tell my other kids, can cost you your life. We are just glad justice was served and we can move on, hopefully."
As Judge Daniel Bouton read the jury's punishment recommendation for each of the ten guilty charges, family members of White's sobbed. At one point during court proceedings, White turned around to his family and told them to stop crying because he was going to be alright.
White faced a maximum sentence of life in prison, plus an additional 80 years for the three murder charges, but the jury opted for a lesser sentence on each charge. The defense team asked for leniency, telling the jury how White had been sexually abused by his foster father for several years during his childhood. An employee with the foster care service in Charlottesville testified White had been subjected to "very serious, extreme sexual abuse" and that he was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Prosecutor Ron Morris called White "cold-blooded" and said his past was "no excuse, no justification for committing crimes."
"I'm satisfied with the verdict," said Robert Lee Daniels Jr., the father of Brian Daniels. "The sentence leaves a little something to be desired. I guess the only thing lacking that I would have liked to see is some remorse, an apology. I'm fully convinced they have the right man."
White pleaded not guilty to all charges and his family maintains his innocence, saying he did not get a fair trial in Greene County.
"We are going to appeal and we are going to fight to the highest court," said White's father, Alonzo Cutchin. "They violated every constitutional right my son has. The 6th amendment guarantees every defendant have a right to confront every evidence against him. My son can't be confronted with the evidence because the police stole the evidence."
A former employee of the Greene County Sheriff's office was convicted last year of embezzlement after admitting to stealing money from the evidence bin of White's case, along with nearly $20,000 in cash collected in 30 other investigations between 2008 and 2011. During White's trial, it was revealed two pieces of DNA evidence collected from the crime scene had disappeared. Prosecutor Morris chalked up the missing evidence to "human error".
"DNA is missing out of the evidence room," Cutchin said. "There is no excuse for that."
But the families of the three victims say the missteps in the investigation don't change what happened that night on Octonia Road. The verdict may bring closure, but it doesn't bring back their loved ones.
Responding to Cutchin's claims about injustice, Daniels' father said, "He has his son. I don't."
White is scheduled to be formally sentenced January 15 in Greene County.