‘These guys are coming to kill me’
Father defends his family, faces manslaughter sentencing
MILLER PLACE, Long Island, N.Y. (FinalCall.com) – John White has done everything expected of a good man in American society. He has been married 34 years, paid his taxes on time, pushed his three sons to get educated, worked at the same job for 25 years, and attends church every Sunday.
The devoted father and husband will also be sentenced Feb. 21 for the fatal shooting of a White teenager, who was part of a mob that showed up at his suburban home threatening his son Aaron and his wife.
“From the moment Aaron told me what was happening, my grandfather’s warning about White lynch mobs started pounding away inside my head,” Mr. White told The Final Call, in an exclusive two-hour interview Dec. 27 at his home.
“In my family’s history that’s how the Klan came. They pull up, they blind you with lights. They burn your house down. They threaten your family. That’s how they come,” said Mr. White.
He was convicted in a racially charged trial that included skinheads who showed up to support the victim’s family and Bro. Kevin Muhammad, student minister of Muhammad Mosque No. 7 in New York and the Fruit of Islam, who stood with the White family. “Our people who have to go before these courts need requisite support,” said Bro. Kevin, who sat with the family through the trial.
The prosecutor portrayed the soft-spoken construction supervisor as a Black man whose anger led to a deadly confrontation. There was apparently also a confrontation inside the jury room: Two white jurors have now expressed regret at their votes to convict Mr. White, saying they felt pressured by the judge to come back with a pre-Christmas verdict.
Modern-day lynch mob?
It was August 9, 2006, when Mr. White’s world caved in. Five drunken White males, ages 17 to 19, converged on his dream house, aching for a fight with his then 19-year-old son. The pretext for the fight was a nine-month-old e-mail that said Aaron wanted to rape a 15-year-old White girl. The email was false, sent by a White so-called friend of the son Aaron. The son was forced to leave a party that evening after threats from the same young men. He went home. After several threatening calls on his cell phone, Aaron awakened his father.
“When Aaron woke me up, the fear in his voice sent chills down my spine. I have never known my son to be so scared. ‘Pop,’ he said, ‘These guys are coming to kill me,’ ” the 54-year-old father recalled.
Within seconds, Mr. White knew it wasn’t a petty squabble with friends, but something much worse. He heard a car drive up, its lights glaring through his windows. He donned shorts and a t-shirt and decided to try to stop any harm from coming to his family.
He grabbed a shotgun, put it down and picked up a Beretta pistol from his garage. His wife, Sonia, was panicky, but was sure her husband would defuse the situation. “Call 911,” Mr. White told his wife. The father and son went outside. The mother followed, paralyzed with fear unable to move from the front door to call 911, she said.
With the young drunken White mob at his driveway, Mr. White walked the short distance, believing the gun would scare them off. The mob hurled racial epithets and threats at the family, saying they would “f—k” the mother. Mr. White told them to leave, but the threats increased, he said.
“And there was one big one in the crowd, so I kept my eye on him, while turning away thinking it was all over. And I didn’t see the little one creeping towards me,” Mr. White said. The little one turned out to be Daniel Cicciaro, 17, who grabbed for the gun, and it went off, Mr. White said.
“I didn’t mean to shoot this young man, he’s a child of God,” Mr. White told a Suffolk County jury of 10 Whites, one Latino, one Black, who after four days and 11 hours of deliberation found him guilty of manslaughter in the second-degree Dec. 22. Mr. White remains free on $100,000 bail and his attorneys plan to appeal the conviction.
Prosecutors argued throughout the trial that Mr. White should have locked himself in his house and waited for police. They said he was reckless. “I had no option to stay in my house,” Mr. White told The Final Call.
His attorney, Fred Brewington, argued, “John White and his family were scared to death–a good justification for going out into the front yard to protect the family.”
“In my family history that’s how the Klan came,” Mr. White told the jury. He explained that his grandfather told him how the Ku Klux Klan burned down his business in the 1920s, and how two relatives met their deaths at the hands of the Klan in Alabama in the 1940s.
‘Pressured’ jurors express regret
Media coverage of the trial seems to have started to turn toward Mr. White’s favor: Juror Francois Larche, a White South African, and Donna Marshak, a White woman from Long Island, told newspapers they felt pressured by Suffolk County judge Barbara Kahn. Judge Kahn ordered the jury to reconsider its position after being told Dec. 22 that they were hopelessly deadlocked as Christmas approached. Forty minutes later, the jury returned with a unanimous guilty verdict.
“That was a total surprise to me,” Mr. White said. “I had been prepared for it though by my lawyers. You know, never let them see you sweat. I knew better than to break down in that courtroom,” he explained. He has felt the pressure of that verdict and what it could mean to his family. He faces five to 15 years in prison and possibly eight years for using an unlicensed handgun.
Jurors Larche and Ms. Marshak have also said other jurors pressed them to change their votes. Mr. Larche told the media about angry exchanges and threats, if he didn’t go along with the guilty vote. Ms. Marshak said she cried on the way home, feeling she had done the wrong thing. Even the N.Y. Post blasted the proceedings in an editorial, “Trouble and Tragedy.” “Now two jurors say that their guilty votes were not wholly voluntary–assertions that doubtless will be taken into account as White’s appeals proceed. We hope the entire case receives close scrutiny in the higher courts,” it said.
“At the end of the day, John White wasn’t looking for trouble; he was in his home. Yes, he ended up acting rashly and–in the jury’s eyes–criminally.
“Yet Cicciaro & Co.’s behavior was unacceptable: They had no business being outside the White family home that night. They made a series of rash and foolish judgments that brought them to that point.”
“I watched the district attorney not argue the facts, he only discredited the family,” said Bro. Kevin. This was another instance of courts not giving Blacks justice, he continued. The answer is our unity and following the guidance in the teachings of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad through the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, Bro. Kevin added.
The White case also contrasts sharply with the celebrated case of Joe Horn, a White man from Pasadena, Texas, who shot and killed two Colombian immigrants who were allegedly breaking into a neighbor’s home. Mr. Horn, who was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, promised to shoot the alleged burglars, who were not on his property. The dispatcher told Mr. Horn not to go outside and that an unmarked police vehicle was present. “Here it goes buddy, you hear the shotgun clicking and I am going,” says Mr. Horn, according to a transcript of the 911 call. A shotgun is heard being cocked and Mr. Horn is heard outside. “Boom! You’re dead,” he shouts. A loud bang is heard. That shooting took place Nov. 17 and Mr. Horn has not been charged with a crime, or even arrested. He has received some accolades for his actions. An online poll for a TV station had letters running 2 to 1 in favor of Mr. Horn.
Mr. White is working with the lawyers on his appeal and trying to get back to his normal life, trying to enjoy the home he had built from the ground up. He thinks often about the night of the fatal shooting. “It won’t go away,” Mr. White said. He plans to continue his fight for justice and was grateful for the support of the Nation of Islam. The Fruit of Islam protected the family when the verdict was announced and a horde of skinheads descended on the court house.
Kevin Muhammad plans to stand by the White family. He will participate in a Jan. 5 National Action Network rally outside the court house. “Our presence has been a welcome presence,” he said.