Columnist

Father who suffocated baby while drunk sentenced to prison

adys@heraldonline.comJuly 17, 2014 

— On Dec. 2, when Samuel White was supposed to be watching his “miracle baby” Ja’Leyah who had survived her mother’s leap from a burning building before Ja’Leyah was even born, White got drunk instead.

White left the baby alone for hours at a stretch that December day. He made two trips to the liquor store, knocking back a fifth of E&J gin and a 12-pack of Bud as a chaser.

He bought a cellphone and hung out with his buddies in the parking lot of the Oak Hollow Apartments, as Ja’Leyah cried, alone, in the playpen in the apartment.

He smoked marijuana joints and washed it down with more gin and a couple extra beers as Ja’Leyah’s mother worked the second of two full-time minimum wage jobs to support the family.

Then White finally passed out drunk in the bed with Ja’Leyah right next to him. White then killed her when he rolled over on her.

The “miracle baby”, a name that White called Ja’Leyah after the apartment fire, suffocated.

Ja’Leyah White, born Sept. 2, 2013, was exactly 3 months old.

Thursday in court, White admitted it all and was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and unlawful child neglect. The sentence handed down by Judge Frank Addy was the maximum allowed under South Carolina law after prosecutors agreed to drop the initial charge of homicide by child abuse. All sides agreed that while White was drunk and high, and had been day in and day out instead of caring for his daughter, he did not intentionally harm Ja’Leyah.

But the result was the same, said Addy, as social services agents had already banned White from being alone with his daughter because of his well-known drunken episodes and penchant for hanging out with his pals instead of watching his tiny daughter.

Prosecutors were “extremely generous” in dropping the homicide charge because of the lack of intent, said Addy, but that didn’t mean that White was any less responsible for Ja’Leyah’s death. White, a two-time convicted felon, could have faced life in prison if convicted of homicide by child abuse.

More, White had signed an agreement with the S.C. Department of Social Services weeks before Ja’Leyah’s death, that stated he would not be alone with the baby because of several reports and complaints from neighbors about White’s constant drinking and leaving Ja’Leyah unattended.

“The first obligation of this state is to protect the people who can’t protect themselves,” Addy told a trembling and sobbing White in court. “I have to try to send a message so that other people do not suffer as your daughter suffered. You weren’t even supposed to be around that child. You posed a clear and imminent danger to that child just by being around her.”

White expressed remorse, saying he is “sorry” and that he will live with the guilt for the rest of his life.

“I would do anything to bring my daughter back,” White said in court. “I wish it could have been me. My daughter had her whole life ahead of her.”

Despite losing her only child, Mandi Coley, Ja’Leyah’s mother, defended White in court and asked for leniency. Coley, who was seven months’ pregnant in July 2013 when she and White had to leap from the second floor of the burning apartment building, had to climb in through the window the night her daughter died because White was so drunk he could not answer the door. Coley had worked 16 straight hours at Bojangles’ and Wal-Mart on Dec. 2 and told police she had to physically beat White to get him off Ja’Leyah that night.

Yet, Coley said in court, White was “an amazing father,” who “would not intentionally hurt his child.”

White’s lawyer, assistant public defender Phil Smith, described White as a “severe alcoholic” who was so wasted on booze and dope the day of Ja’Leyah’s death that White’s memory of the day is hazy. Yet, Smith said, White has “overwhelming grief” and admits responsibility.

A cousin of White’s broke down in court, saying he and others should have intervened before White’s drinking and neglect turned deadly.

Yet prosecutor Willy Thompson described Samuel White’s daily drunken binges as White’s choice, where White chose to leave Ja’Leyah crying in the apartment while White drank and hung out and made trips to the store.

White did not shake Ja’Leyah to death, said Thompson the prosecutor. White did not beat his child. But what White did do was get high and drunk on Dec. 2 with his buddies instead of watching his daughter.

White’s constant neglect was “a loaded gun waiting to go off,” Thompson said.

The gun finally went off Dec. 2. The bullet was the gin and pot, the beer and the disdain.

Ja’Leyah White, the “miracle baby,” of Rock Hill’s apartment fire, ran out of miracles when her drunken father rolled over on her in bed and the child who wasn’t even yet 10 pounds died gasping for air.

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

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