Taybronne Altereik White, who was found guilty late last year of a triple-homicide in Greene County, had the deck stacked against him from before birth.
During his sentencing hearing Wednesday in Greene County Circuit Court, the defense, prosecution and Circuit Judge Daniel Bouton all cited the physical, emotional and sexual abuse suffered by the 28-year-old Albemarle County man throughout his life. But that didn’t keep Bouton from sentencing White to the 76-year sentence recommended in October by a Greene County jury.
White was found guilty on Oct. 10 of one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and several other charges in the May 2011 shooting death of Brian Robert Daniels, 26; Dustin Knighton, 25; and Lisa Hwang.
The jury in October also recommended 25 years for Hwang’s killing, 10 years for Daniels’ and five years for Knighton’s, and additional 20 years for statutory burglary, two years each for attempted robbery and possession of a gun by a felon and three years each for a series of convictions of using or displaying a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Bouton stood by the jury’s recommendation, although White’s defense had asked for 40 years in prison.
“You were subjected to horrible [abuse] as a young boy that no one should have to go through,” Bouton told White as he sentenced him shortly after noon. But Bouton noted that White was convicted of a crime of violence in which three people were killed, he has a long criminal record and professional health experts said White would not be a safe risk if released back into society.
Prior to sentencing, White spoke on his own behalf. “I wanted to talk about reasons why I should receive a lesser sentence,” he said, claiming he did not receive a fair trial and citing missing DNA evidence and stolen money involved in the case. All those factors were brought up in the trial.
“I loved Dustin Knighton to death. I loved Brain Roberts to death. I loved Lisa Hwang to death,” White said, although he did implicate Knighton in the murders.
The bullet-riddled bodies of Knighton, Daniels and Hwang were found in the early-morning hours of May 3, 2011, on Octonia Road north of Stanardsville. Greene County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronald Morris said the homicides occurred minutes after a botched robbery attempt on Ford Avenue.
“This is persistent with Dustin Knighton’s behavior,” White said, claiming that Knighton once told him he drove a man a down a country road, “made him strip ‘butterball naked’ and shot him in the head with a .22.”
White said no DNA evidence linked him to the missing guns and police bloodhounds had tracked the scent from Hwang’s Honda Accord, which had been ditched on Old Brook Road in Albemarle County, to an apartment complex where a host of White’s associates lived.
“I feel like I was set up,” White told the judge.
“Your views on that have no impact on the court’s sentencing decision,” Judge Bouton told White during final sentencing.
Most of the sentencing hearing involved testimony from Joette James, a clinical neuropsychologist who specializes with children and young adults who have brain disorders.
She said White met the criteria for “intellectual disability” and showed signs of post traumatic stress disorder.
“It is very clear that he has experienced significant trauma and has experienced PTSD,” James testified. “… It appears when a person has layer upon layer of traumatic experiences.”
Based on previous reports, as well as interviews with White, she said he was born to a mother who smoked crack while she was pregnant and his father was in and out of prison. White was sent to his grandparents, where he was threatened with a moving chainsaw, and two stays in foster care had disastrous results.
“It was like a hell,” James said about the first foster home that White was in from the age of 8 to 11. “He was beaten every day with hangers, fists, belts, electrical cords – anything that was handy.”
After that, White was placed in the foster care of Richard Rowzie in Greene County, where he suffered years of sexual abuse, including being chained to a bed at one point. Rowzie was convicted in 2001 of multiple counts of felony forcible sodomy, abduction and taking incident liberties were a child, court records show. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
“[White’s] life before he was out of the wound was damaged and on the path to failure,” defense attorney Edward Ungvarsky argued in asking for a 40-year term.
He cited White’s “mental retardation” and traumatic foster care experiences. “You take this kid from Charlottesville and you stick him in the middle of the woods with a rapist.” Ungvarsky said. “At 18 he ages out of the system and what have we given him? Nothing. His life is actually worse than in the wound.”
Referring to Rowzie, Ungvarsky said: “I think he’s perfectly called a monster. He got 20 years and I’m begging up here for 40 years [for White].”
But Morris argued that despite all White’s trauma and intellectual disability, he still knows right from wrong. White’s previous criminal record included six felony convictions and more than a dozen misdemeanors, Morris said.
Records show convictions stretching back to 2004 for crimes ranging from malicious wounding to reckless driving. He was released from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail on April 12, 2011, less than a month before the homicides.
“The defendant acted with violence and took the lives of three human beings,” Morris said.
“This is not a case where the jury said willy-nilly ‘I don’t like Mr. White,’” Morris said. “They carefully made their decisions.
“We think the jury carefully considered [sentencing] as well,” he said.
Although none of the victims’ families spoke at the sentencing, Morris read a victim impact statement from Daniels’ mother, who has custody of his 7-year-old son and 2-year-old child born after his death. Morris said the 7-year-old has threatened suicide, “knowing he could be with his dad.”
Bouton will hear a defense motion at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, to toss aside the verdicts.