Gov. David Paterson commutes sentence of John Harris White to time served
Published: Friday, December 24, 2010
By Paul Post
Special to The Record
WILTON — A Long Island man, serving 1-1/3 to four years for a 2006 shooting death, left Mount McGregor Correctional Facility a free man early Thursday morning after Gov. David Paterson commuted his sentence to time served.
John Harris White, 57, an African-American, was convicted in a jury trial in the racially-charged shooting of Daniel Cicciaro, a white teenager, in Suffolk County on Aug. 9, 2006.
Following his conviction for manslaughter, White was sentenced on March 19, 2008, and began serving time on July 9 of this year after appeals were rejected. He was transferred to Mount McGregor on Sept. 23.
“While the incident and Mr. White’s trial engendered much controversy and comment, and varying assessments of justice were perceived, its most common feature was heartbreak,” said Paterson, who leaves office on Dec. 31. “A young life was lost, beliefs were challenged, lives were ruined and a community became distraught. No one intended this, yet everyone suffered. I am deeply saddened by the events of that day and am committed to working to heal the pain that it has caused to the affected families and community.”
The emotional case generated significant media attention on Long Island and Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota was quick to criticize Paterson’s action.
“I strongly believe the governor should have had the decency and the compassion to at least contact the victim’s family to allow them to be heard before commuting the defendant’s decision,” Spota said.
White testified during the high-profile trial that he was trying to protect his family from a carload of white teens that showed up at his house. The teens and White’s 19-year-old son, Aaron, had argued at a party where alcohol was involved.
White said his pistol accidentally went off when Cicciaro lunged for it. Paterson’s office said the incident was characterized by fear, stress, panic, anger, confusion, misunderstanding and a clash of values – all of which transpired in less than three minutes.
“The action I am taking today is one of understanding, forgiveness and hope, which I believe are the essential components of justice,” Paterson said.
Department of Corrections spokesperson Linda Foglia said White served 39 days in Suffolk County Jail before going to prison. He was first sent to Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill, one of several maximum-security reception facilities throughout the state, before getting transferred to medium-security Mount McGregor.
White was originally classified as a medium-security inmate. All reception facilities are maximum security because they have a mix of inmates, Foglia said.
She declined comment, for security reasons, on specifics of his release such as the exact time and how he left the facility.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.