Mother of child killed 18 years ago wants sentence imposed

Rachel Deville, who has waited two decades for justice for her 10-week-old daughter killed in an Ascension Parish car crash, said Tuesday that she’s willing to wait a while longer if it means a Donaldsonville man finally serves the two-year prison term he received 18 years ago in Brittney Deville’s death.

Deville’s search for justice took her Tuesday to the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge, where a state prosecutor and an attorney for Stanley White argued in front of a three-judge panel.

If the panel does not reverse 23rd Judicial District Court Judge Jessie LeBlanc, who in May suspended White’s prison sentence and put him on probation for two years, Deville said she’s prepared to take her fight to the Louisiana Supreme Court in New Orleans.

“This is about justice for Brittney. She deserves justice,” Deville said outside the appellate court. “I would like to see him serve two years.”

Steven Moore, one of White’s attorneys, argued to the 1st Circuit panel and later told reporters that equity and fairness demand White not be sent to prison after such a long delay for which he said the state is solely to blame.

“Stanley’s been out 17 years. He’s been a model citizen,” Moore said outside the appeals court building. “Legally he had no responsibility (to turn himself in). He had no responsibility to do anything.”

White was traveling at a speed estimated at 75 mph on Airline Highway in Ascension Parish on July 31, 1994, when he ran into the back of a car carrying Brittney and several others, the state Attorney General’s Office has said.

Brittney, who was unrestrained, was thrown from the vehicle. She died a day later from her injuries.

White, who was 19 at the time, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.09 percent, which at the time was lower than the state’s threshold for presumptive drunken driving.

In 1994, a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent was presumptive evidence of drunken driving. Today, a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent is presumptive evidence of drunken driving. For those younger than 21, a reading of 0.02 percent is presumptive evidence of drunken driving.

White pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in July 1995 and was sentenced to two years in prison in December of that year.

He was allowed to remain free on bond while he appealed his sentence.

After the 1st Circuit upheld White’s sentence in early 1997, he never was taken into custody and did not serve his sentence.

The 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office turned the case over to the Attorney General’s Office in March.

Assistant Attorney General David Weilbaecher argued Tuesday to Circuit Judges James Kuhn, Toni Higginbotham and Mitch Theriot that LeBlanc lacked jurisdiction to modify the sentence imposed on White by then-Judge John Peytavin.

LeBlanc said in her May ruling that enforcing the sentence now would amount to an inordinate delay that would violate the fundamental principles of liberty and justice.

Weilbaecher charged Tuesday that LeBlanc acted as a “one-man pardon board” and said only the governor has such commutation powers.

Moore, who countered that White deserves “credit for time at liberty,” said LeBlanc crafted a fair and equitable remedy.

He also charged the state was negligent in failing to put White behind bars.

“Be careful with that,” Kuhn shot back. “If I know my sentence has been affirmed, I don’t have an obligation to say, ‘OK, I’m ready’?”

Moore maintained it was up to the sheriff and prosecutor to execute the 1st Circuit’s 1997 ruling.

“They did absolutely nothing for 17 years,” he said.

White’s attorneys say White, on the other hand, earned a college degree and was continually employed, including a stint as a state employee with the Louisiana Workforce Commission. He also had no further arrests.

Kuhn acknowledged his astonishment that state prosecutors and White’s attorneys could not resolve the matter before it reached the appeals court.

Kuhn, Higginbotham and Theriot took the arguments under advisement without indicating when a decision would be handed down.

“We’ll just wait and see,” Deville said. “It’s painful, but we’re making it through it.”

White’s attorneys are asking the appeals court to affirm LeBlanc’s decision. The Attorney General’s Office wants her ruling reversed and White ordered to serve his prison term. The office says White spent only 10 days in jail in connection with the case.