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Archive for Sunday, April 2, 2006

Plea agreement spurs release of former death row inmate

April 2, 2006

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— A former death row inmate whose conviction was overturned in federal court was freed after pleading no contest to a reduced charge.

Under the plea agreement, Leamon White was sentenced to the time he has already served.

White, 55, was released Friday night from the Jackson County Jail. Earlier Friday, he pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault and three counts of armed criminal action.

"We're just glad it's over," defense attorney Ronald Partee said.

On Jan. 6, 1987, three men went into a Kansas City crack house and slashed the throats of three people inside after demanding drugs or money.

Drug dealer Don Wright died in the attack. Carol Kinney and Ernest Black survived having their throats cut and identified White as one of the assailants.

White, who has always maintained his innocence, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1989. Two years ago, a federal judge ruled that White, of Kansas City, had had ineffective counsel and overturned his conviction.

The state appealed, but in January the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the judge's ruling.

On Friday, White did not admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him at a retrial.

Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor Mark Jones said conflicting testimony by witnesses over the years would have made a retrial difficult for the state.

White said the two survivors had confused him with someone else when they identified him as one of their attackers, and no physical evidence tied him to the crime scene.

Two other defendants were also convicted in the attack. One, Roger Buckner, is serving life without parole. The other, Cleveland Ford, was paroled seven years ago after being sentenced to 15 years.

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