Homicide case from hell Howard County investigation: Suspect gets premature tip, police seek indictment too soon.

March 02, 1998

KENNETH ALAN WHITE is not the only one shaking his head after local law enforcement officials brought and then dropped charges against him in a 13-year-old homicide case. Folks from Howard County to Pennsylvania also must be wondering how police and prosecutors could have so badly botched such a serious case.

Mr. White, 47, of Lebanon, Pa., was arrested in November and charged with the first-degree murder of Sandra Lee Taylor, a 31-year-old mother of two. Her remains were found in a Woodstock stream in August 1995. She had disappeared on New Year's Day in 1985.

The arrest of Mr. White was only one strange part of this story. Police complained at the time of the arrest that a lawyer using a direct-mail service had tipped off the defendant to his impending apprehension while soliciting him as a client. They claimed the letter, which said a warrant had been issued, could have tempted the defendant to flee. That incident led to much political bleating to tighten rules on the public release of unserved warrants, although police fears were never realized. Mr. White surrendered peaceably.

Just as the suspect prematurely got word of his arrest, it now appears police were premature in seeking it. Police were unable to present a case strong enough to gain a grand jury indictment, which would show probable cause that a defendant committed the act. This is a far lower standard than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" required for conviction.

The weak linchpin in Mr. White's case was an unreliable witness who apparently has trouble distinguishing between fact and rumor. The witness says he never claimed that Mr. White admitted to killing Ms. Taylor.

A homicide case so old is tough to crack, but citizens expect law enforcement to be more thorough before bringing charges to a grand jury. Innocent people suffer when unfairly accused; police and prosecutors do a disservice to the state when they bring cases to a grand jury without the goods. Howard's botched massage parlor probe of 1995 and the failure to believe a rape victim's testimony in 1992 that proved true also raised red flags. Mr. White says the charges have ruined his life and rendered him unemployable. The charges also cast doubts on the judgment of local law enforcement.

Pub Date: 3/02/98

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