Columnist

Father charged with homicide was banned from Rock Hill home where daughter died

February 15, 2014 

When Samuel Lee White’s baby daughter suffocated while sleeping in bed with him at her mother’s Rock Hill apartment in December, he already had been banned from the property for months by management.

And despite an order by state social services investigators that White must not be the sole caregiver for 3-month-old Ja’Leyah White, he was alone in the apartment with her when she died.

DSS officials have refused to say how long the agency had been investigating the family, how many times investigators had seen the family, or the last time investigators had talked with White, the baby’s mother or the other family member who was supposed to be caring for the baby under a DSS child protection plan.

“He shouldn’t have been there at all,” said India Blanding, Ja’Leyah’s godmother. “If he wasn’t there, she would still be alive.”

Police say White, 25, was “grossly intoxicated” on both alcohol and marijuana the night Ja’Leyah died at the Oak Hollow Apartments. He was charged with homicide by child neglect on Feb. 3 and remains in jail without bond.

It remains unclear how often White was at the apartment complex between the time of his November release from weekends in jail and Ja’Leyah’s Dec. 3 death. Witnesses at the apartments told police White was there Dec. 2.

Mandi Coley, Ja’Leyah’s mother, came home at about 11:30 p.m. Dec. 2 after working a double shift at Bojangles’ and Walmart, police reports show. She could not get into the apartment because White did not answer the door, Coley told police, so she had to climb in through a window. She found her daughter unresponsive.

White told police he had fed Ja’Leyah and changed her diaper before both went to sleep in the bed around 7 p.m., according to a police report. There is no mention in the report of the other family member who was supposed to be caring for the baby being at the home at any time Dec. 2 while Coley was at work.

White faces 20 years to life in prison if convicted of homicide by child neglect. No one else has been charged in connection with Ja’Leyah’s death.

White and Coley survived jumping from a second-story balcony in July to escape a fire that burned down the apartment building they lived in at the time. Coley was seven months pregnant with Ja’Layeh.

The baby was born Sept. 2, but White had been banned from the apartment complex since July 30, when Rock Hill police hand delivered a no-trespass notice to White, according to a police report. On Aug. 14, management at Oak Hollow called police to notify them that White was again on the property. Officers reported finding White hiding under a blanket in a back bedroom closet.

White was issued a citation for trespassing and on Aug. 14, he pleaded guilty in Rock Hill Municipal Court. He served two weekends in jail in October and November, court records show. A Circuit Court judge signed an amended probation sentence that included the weekends in jail, said Pete O’Boyle, spokesman for the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.

White was sentenced to three years in prison for breaking the jaw of a Rock Hill man in February 2013. In that incident, White was intoxicated when he repeatedly punched a friend of his younger sister, who told police White jumped her friend “for no reason.” That sentence was suspended and White was placed on five years probation. Six days later, court records show, White was arrested again by Rock Hill police and charged with trespassing and giving false information to police.

Those arrests came after White was found guilty at a trial in his absence in Municipal Court in September 2012 on charges of possession of marijuana, shoplifting and reckless driving. He was first convicted of burglary while still a teenager, after he stole three handguns and a playstation from a Rock Hill home. He received a suspended six-year sentence and probation for that conviction.

The no-trespass order was in place at Oak Hollow Apartments after Ja’Leyah died. Police were called to the apartments to look for White again on Dec. 5 after residents furious over Ja’Leyah’s death told police White had returned yet again.

After White was charged with homicide by child neglect Feb. 3, probation officials served an arrest warrant on him in jail for allegedly violating terms of his probation stemming from the February 2013 incident, jail records show. A hearing has not been scheduled for probation officials to argue that White should be forced to serve that three-year sentence.

White declined to apply for a public defender and has not hired a lawyer, court records show. His first appearance in court on the homicide charge is scheduled for April.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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