YORK — After what appears to have been an adult lifetime of crime and hurting others and weakness that culminated in executing his former girlfriend – because if he could not have her, no man would – Carl Eugene White Jr. had one last chance to be a man.
But White, 29, even blew that chance to stand up and apologize Monday morning, when he pleaded guilty to murder and received the lightest possible sentence – 30 years in prison.
The weak man who carried a loaded gun to babysit his son, Zaylen, and shoot 25-year-old Shrece Charlete Robinson twice said nothing.
A cousin of the slain nursing student said it best in the courtroom.
“This was a cowardly act,” said Connisha Stewart. “That was a coward. He shot and killed my cousin and ran.”
‘This was planned’
Carl White – known as “C.J.” to all on the street where he plied his trade that did not include honest work – after he went from habitual offender to killer, did run.
He ran with Zaylen – unrestrained in the car and then a friend’s truck – after blaming other guys for the shooting, driving with one hand and swigging from a bottle of vodka in the other hand.
He drove as fast as he could – so fast that a heroic trucker who saw him outside of Columbia followed him until police caught up to him in Aiken, three hours away.
Robinson’s family, heroic to the end, did not wail that White should spend the rest of his life in prison. They said they had forgiven an unforgivable act – although they had every right to ask for life and even expect life.
White admitted in court that he shot Robinson once in the neck – in the front so close police could tell the gun was up against her skin – and then again in the back of the head.
Then he admitted he did what cowards do; he lied about who did it and then fled his mother’s home.
On Monday, White did not even nod to the people who openly admitted that the woman he killed so brutally loved him at one time. A woman who was 25, a serious student in nursing, yet because love knows no logic, had at one time fallen for White and had a son with him.
Robinson was a young woman who, on her breaks at work and school, would sit alone studying a textbook, while others grabbed a snack or planned an evening or weekend.
The reason she was even at White’s mother’s home on May 21 was that White – who was with Zaylen on his regular weekend visitation – wanted to go out. Robinson found out and was livid that White was hunting for a babysitter just before midnight.
So she went to get Zaylen, whom White putatively loved but was ready to pawn off on someone else when the party beckoned. She found White in the driveway, with a pistol tucked into his waistband – because surely all tough guys need a pistol in their pants to take care of a child who isn’t even 2 years old.
White was such a weakling that in May 2011 – at age 28, with so many felony convictions – he lived at home with his parents but still found time to father another child with a new girlfriend.
But to White, no one else was ever supposed to love Robinson but him.
Robinson, finally, had put Carl White in her rear-view mirror and was focusing on a career, school and motherhood.
“He wanted my sister back, but he could not accept the fact that my sister had moved on,” Robinson’s younger sister, Ladrena, who also juggles school and work, said in court Monday. “This was no accident. This was planned.”
Murder carries 30 years to life in prison. Carl White, all this out in the open now, listened to both Stewart the cousin and Ladrena Robinson the sister say each did not hate him and had forgiven him and hoped God would, too.
Estelle Robinson, the heroic mother of Shrece and Ladrena, continued not to hate the person but the act, and did not fight a deal of 30 years negotiated between prosecutors and White that would avoid a trial.
Since the day her daughter died, Estelle Robinson has focused on raising her grandson and nothing else – except making sure her daughter’s killer received some punishment, but not the death penalty.
She wanted justice – not vengeance – and remained heroic in the face of Carl White’s cowardice.
Estelle Robinson did not bring Zaylen to court Monday; she took him to day care instead. She does not always take him to his mother’s grave, where she cleans the plot and takes the flowers, and prays on her knees for the strength to raise a grandson.
“He doesn’t need to see all this,” she said before court. “What he needs is what we give him – love.”
Even White’s lawyer, assistant public defender Phil Smith called the grace of the victim’s family “unusual” and something courts “rarely see.”
Justice for Zaylen
Everyone had taken a bullet of sorts for Carl White Jr. until then.
The victim, she took two.
The victim’s family, by not screaming for life in prison or even the death penalty.
Zaylen, soon to be 3, who took pictures with Santa, was taken to the Rock Hill Galleria by his loving Aunt Ladrena. It was the Sunday before Christmas, and Ladrena waited in line because his father was in jail for killing his mother.
A lady with her children that cold December day commented that the little boy was so well-behaved and joyous. The lady was told that the father was in jail for killing the mother, and the adult with him was an aunt.
“That is tragic,” the lady said that cold day.
No, it was murder, and cowardice – but the heroes did not fail Zaylen.
On Monday morning, Circuit Court Judge Lee Alford – who has been a judge for three decades in probate court and family court and criminal court, meaning he has presided over every type of squabble and fight there is – had to decide whether he would accept this negotiated sentence of 30 years for murder.
Alford said it was “a tragedy that someone can’t accept ending a relationship and would do this.” Still, he accepted the heroics of all involved to agree to the lightest of all sentences for murder, 30 years in prison.
“This,” of course, means the cowardice of White shooting the mother of his son twice, then running away – putting his son’s life in incredible danger that somehow ended without a car crash or more gunfire.
Alford asked Carl White if he had anything to say, and White did not. He left the courtroom for prison.
The astonished family of Shrece Robinson had hoped right up to that moment that maybe White might apologize, or seek forgiveness, or thank them for possibly sparing his life.
No, Carl White left silently, with the last words of Connisha Stewart, the cousin, remembered forever in the courtroom: “C.J. is a coward!”
Andrew Dys firstname.lastname@example.org