A Charlottesville man convicted in the May 2011 shooting deaths of three others in Greene County appeared back in Greene County Circuit Court on June 11 to determine whether his previous defense counsel failed to call a witness who could have provided an alibi.
Taybronne Altereik White, now 34, was found guilty on Oct. 10, 2013 of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder for the deaths of Brian Robert Daniels, 26; Dustin Knighton, 25; and Lisa Hwang, 26, all of Charlottesville. White was sentenced to a jury-recommended punishment of 76 years in prison. White is serving his sentence at Red Onion State Prison in Wise County.
In a habeas corpus petition, White’s attorney Norman Lamson argued last Tuesday that his client’s previous defense team failed to call Taybronne White’s sister, Jasmin White, during the trial. Lamson argued that Jasmin White’s testimony would have provided an alibi for her brother at the time the murders occurred. However, Taybronne White’s former defense attorneys, Edward Ungvarksy and Michael Hemenway, maintained that Jasmin White was not a credible witness to present at trial.
Lamson’s opening argument conceded that Jasmin White’s testimony would have not only provided Taybronne White with an alibi, but also explained numerous pieces of DNA evidence.
“It’s much more than an alibi,” Lamson told Judge Dale Durrer. Suggesting her testimony may have changed the jury’s decision, Lamson continued, “No rational lawyer would not call [Jasmin White].”
Virginia Assistant Attorney General Eugene Murphy said the matter is a “much simpler case,” adding that Jasmin White’s testimony would open the door to her phone records showing various family members calls to one another around the time of the murders. The calls were made in the early morning hours of May 3, including one from Jasmin White’s phone to their father, Alonzo Cutchin, which lasted approximately an hour.
Jasmin White, now 33 and wearing an Orange jumpsuit and leg shackles, was called as the first witness in last Tuesday’s hearing. White is being held for charges in Albemarle County including malicious wounding and assaulting an officer. Under questioning by Lamson, Jasmin White noted that she did not have any previous felonies or misdemeanors of moral turpitude on her record.
Jasmin White testified that in 2011 she lived in Charlottesville in a duplex with her two children, her brother Taybronne White and her former boyfriend. Jasmin White said that the day prior to the murders, Daniels and Knighton came to her home to ask Taybronne White for a change of clothes. Jasmin White later left the home to take a nursing exam in Richmond, leaving Taybronne White to babysit her children. She said when she returned around 9 p.m. her brother was asleep on her sofa where he remained all night.
“My brother was at my house and there was no way he committed these heinous crimes,” Jasmin White said in court.
Murphy asked Jasmin White why she didn’t mention that her then-boyfriend also was in the house that night or mention early morning phone calls to family members to investigators when initially questioned. Jasmin White replied that, “No one asked.”
Keandra White, Taybronne White’s other sister, testified that she went with Jasmin White on the trip to Richmond. Keandra White agreed that Taybronne White was in the Charlottesville home that night, but said her brother was standing in the living room when they returned. The former boyfriend of Jasmin White, Brandon Bates, also testified he saw Taybronne White in the home until around midnight when Bates went to bed.
In Taybronne White’s own testimony, he said that Daniels and Knighton came to his sister’s home unannounced on May 2 confessing that they had just committed a robbery and needed a change of clothes. Taybronne White recalled giving Daniels a black t-shirt to wear, another black tshirt to wrap around his head “arabic style,” and a blue and white bandana. Those items later were recovered at the scene of the murders, and could not exclude Taybronne White’s DNA. The black t-shirt was found to have Taybronne White’s blood on the back. However, Taybronne White testified last week that the blood on the t-shirt came from an earlier fight with his brother over shoes, and that the blood was still on the t-shirt when he gave it to Daniels to wear.
Former defense attorney Ungvarksy said under oath of Jasmin White that her “demeanor with us was hostile and uncooperative. Her stories changed. She originally said she was on the phone with the father of her child, but that was not corroborated by phone records.”
Ungvarsky also cited phone calls between family members until 5 a.m. after the murders occurred could have been seen by jury members as damning evidence. In a recorded phone call between Cutchin and Ungvarsky, Ungvarsky said “the phone calls will get him convicted ... they’re going to see it as there was a crisis. No one’s going to think it’s not related to the shooting.” In the same phone call, Ungvarsky can also be heard saying, “Jasmin’s testimony is going to be damaging.”
“If we called Jasmin, those phone records were going to come in,” he said.
Michael Hemenway, another one of Taybronne White’s defense attorneys, also said that Jasmin White was not a strong witness – citing that she was hesitant to give answers, not forthcoming and gave inconsistent responses.
“We made a judgment call,” Hemenway said of the choice to not call Jasmin White during trial or use the alibi defense.
Called for a second time, Jasmin White said she did not change her story and was not uncooperative with investigators before mouthing “I love you” to Taybronne White.
Judge Durrer asked that closing arguments in last Tuesday’s hearing be submitted in writing on or before July 22, as well as a transcript be made of the court proceedings by June 21. At the time of press, it was unclear when Taybronne White would appear in court again on the habeas corpus petition.
The 2011 murders
The bullet-ridden bodies of Daniels, Knighton and Hwang laid on Octonia Road in Greene County in the early morning hours of May 3, 2011.
Knighton was face down, a white shirt covering his face, wearing blue latex gloves and a .22-caliber rifle lying next to him. Daniels, who had a pair of latex gloves in his jeans pocket, was nearby lying on his back, while Hwang also was on her back approximately 100 yards away. All three died from multiple gunshot wounds. A 9mm handgun was found on the roadway between the three victims.
The victims were allegedly shot inside Hwang’s Honda Accord before being dumped. The vehicle was found on Old Brook Road in Albemarle County parallel to an apartment complex where Taybronne White’s mother lived. Evidence found inside Hwang’s car included nine casings from a 9mm handgun, seven casings from a .22-caliber rifle and had significant blood from White, Knighton and Daniels.
Investigators believe that Daniels, Knighton and Hwang were fatally shot after a botched home invasion and attempted robbery minutes earlier on Ford Avenue in Greene County. A 911 call came in at 2:20 a.m. on May 3 for the home invasion. The victim testified at the time that he was asleep in his girlfriend’s Stanardsville home when a black male wearing a bandana and brandishing a handgun confronted him and demanded money. He also testified that he saw a second masked man carrying a shotgun and thought he was white “because of his voice.” They were unable to obtain money from the victim. The victim pointed to Taybronne White, who was 26 at the time of the offenses, as the black male who attacked him.
Another 911 call came less than an hour later at 3:05 a.m. when a motorist came across the three bodies on Octonia Road less than a mile away from the scene of the home invasion.
Witnesses and evidence including the handgun, shotgun, bloody clothing and shoes found at the scene placed Taybronne White in the Ford Avenue house during the attempted armed robbery, as well as tied him to the three homicide victims.
Five days later, Taybronne White turned himself in to Charlottesville Police and was later remanded to the Greene County Sheriff’s Office. Taybronne White testified last Tuesday that he “saw his picture on the news and got scared” because he thought “the Greene County sheriff’s were going to shoot and kill” him, so he went to Richmond in the days between the murders and turning himself in.
In October 2013, more than two years after the triple-murder, a Greene County jury convicted White on the murder charges and related offenses and recommended a 76-year prison sentence. Judge Daniel Bouton upheld the recommended sentence. White was found guilty of one count of firstdegree murder and two counts of second-degree murder for the deaths. In addition to the three murder charges, White was found guilty of statutory burglary, attempted robbery, possession of a gun by a felon and using or displaying a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Information for this story was taken from Greene County Record and The Daily Progress archives.