HUNTSVILLE, AL. – More than 22 years after taking the life of his wife, Ruby Lanier White, Leroy White is scheduled to pay the ultimate price Thursday night.
White, 52, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Thursday at Holman Prison in Atmore for the Oct. 17, 1988, shotgun slaying of his estranged wife at her northwest Huntsville home.
A man who helped put White on death row in 1989 will not get any satisfaction from his execution.
Bruce Gardner was a Madison County assistant district attorney who prosecuted White, but is now a defense lawyer and opponent of the death penalty.
“I think I’ll be in a very somber, contemplative mood,” Gardner said about Thursday night. “Wishing the best for Leroy, whatever that is.”
Gardner called the death penalty “a barbaric, abhorrent practice.”
Asked if he will be responsible for White’s death Thursday night, Gardner said, “To a certain extent, I do feel that way.”
U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre last week denied a motion by White’s attorneys to stop the execution because his previous attorneys caused him to miss a deadline to file an appeal.
White will be the fourth person from Madison County – and first since 1998 – executed by the state since the state took over executions from the counties in 1927.
Ruby White, 35, was a first-grade teacher at West Huntsville Elementary School when she was gunned down outside her Evans Drive home. Leroy White wounded Ruby’s sister, Stella Lanier, before shooting Ruby White.
Barbara Johnson, a special education teacher at West Huntsville at the time, was at home watching the evening news when the newscast was interrupted for breaking news about the shooting.
“It was pretty devastating,” Johnson, now a parental involvement education specialist for the city school system, said last week.
“She was a real nice, pleasant teacher,” Johnson said of Ruby White. “The children all loved her.”
News reports at the time said that Ruby White had filed for divorce in August 1988. Leroy White shot her in the leg with a .38-caliber pistol after she filed the divorce petition, but she did not press charges.
Late in the afternoon of Oct. 17, Leroy White went to the Evans Drive home the couple had shared with a shotgun and the same .38-caliber pistol he had used in the August shooting.
According to news reports and trial testimony, Leroy White shot open the home’s front door and went inside where he shot Stella Lanier in the chest and shoulder.
He returned to his car, reloaded the shotgun and went back in the house. He shot Ruby White with the shotgun while she was running out the door. He returned again to his car to reload the shotgun, then fired more shots at Ruby White while she was lying in the yard.
She died at the scene from wounds to her arm, chest, neck and leg.
Leroy White shot Ruby White because he was angry about the pending divorce, witnesses said at the trial. Stella Lanier was the chief witness against Leroy White.
The jury took about 20 minutes to convict White of capital murder and then voted 9-3 to recommend that the judge sentence White to life in prison without parole.
But, in Alabama judges can disregard a jury’s sentencing recommendation.
Then-Circuit Judge Daniel Banks overruled the jury and sentenced White to death because White’s actions were especially “heinous and atrocious compared to other capital offenses.”
Randy Gladden, who defended White, said he has had contact with White’s appellant attorneys over the years, but none with White. He will not attend the execution.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to do so,” Gladden said last week.
Gladden said it’s “hard to say” how he’ll feel Thursday night.
“All I can say is that it’s a horrible situation all the way around,” he said.
Gladden said he thought he’d almost pulled off a miracle when the jury recommended life without parole after seeing the “horrible” evidence that had been presented against White.
“Under the circumstances, I don’t know what else I could have done,” he said.
Gardner, an assistant district attorney from 1980 to 1989, prosecuted four capital cases, but White is the only one sentenced to death.
Gardner said it was his idea to prosecute White for capital murder because his breaking into the house was considered a burglary, which is a felony.
A person can be charged with capital murder if the killing occurs while committing another felony offense.
Gardner said he received a letter from White about 10 years ago “in which he expressed a great deal of remorse. What his life was like. He realized he had made a mistake, but couldn’t change it. I thought it was heartfelt and he was remorseful for what he had done.”
Gardner said his position on the death penalty changed over time partly because he became a defense lawyer, but mostly because of age and a spiritual evolution.
“I have come to think of it as a ridiculous institution,” he said.
The death penalty is not applied equitably and fairly because of race, where a trial is held and the quality of legal representation, he said.
“You can’t design a system where you can ensure that an innocent person is not executed,” Gardner said.
Executions in Alabama
* The state has executed 202 people since taking over executions from the counties in 1927.
* The state has executed three men sentenced in Madison County. They are Walter Miller on June 19, 1936; William F. Bowen Jr. on Jan. 15, 1965; and Steven A. Thompson on May 8, 1998.
* There are 203 inmates on death row in Alabama. There are 99 white men, 97 black men, three men of other races and four women on death row.
* There are 10 people sentenced in Madison County on death row. They are Leroy White, Nick Acklin, Benito Albarran, James Barber, Anthony Tyson, Jeffery Rieber, Mohammad Sharifi, Jason Sharp, Derrick Mason and Joey Wilson.
* Legislation passed in 1923 provided for state-performed executions by electrocution in a room at Kilby Prison. Up to that time, each county had conducted hangings held in private gallows instead of the public hangings of the frontier past. A convict, Ed Mason, built the electric chair, “Yellow Mama” for Kilby’s death row.
* On April 8, 1927, “Yellow Mama” was used for the first execution conducted in Alabama by electrocution when Horace DeVaughan of Jefferson County was executed.
* In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death sentence process unconstitutional and executions were stopped. William F. Bowen Jr. of Madison County was the last inmate executed before the ruling.
* The state resumed performing executions on April 22, 1983, with the execution of John Louis Evans III of Mobile County.
* Legislation adopted in 2002 provided lethal injection as the means for execution unless the condemned person chooses electrocution. Lynda L. Block of Lee County was the last person executed in “Yellow Mama” on May 10, 2002. Anthony K. Johnson of Morgan County was the first inmate executed by lethal injection on Dec. 16, 2002.