Trenton woman who killed second ex-boyfriend gets fewer years than for first homicide

A wheel-chair-bound Edna White had suffered a stroke and the elevator from the holding cell leading to Courtroom 2C was out of commission, forcing a cadre of sheriff’s officers to maneuver her past reporters in the courtroom gallery and shuffle chairs to get her situated for sentencing.

Edna White

Edna White

“We played musical chairs,” one of the sheriff’s officers said. “You won, Ms. White.”

That wasn’t the only prize for White, 58, on Thursday inside Mercer County Superior Court.

While she didn’t win her freedom, she effectively beat murder charges, and with it, a life sentence.

White pleaded guilty in November to a lesser count of aggravated manslaughter for fatally stabbing her former boyfriend and father of her child, Dwelle Jerome Clark, on Feb. 14, 2014, during an argument over $20 at his mother’s boarding home.

White’s second aggravated manslaughter conviction netted her less time in state prison than for killing another former boyfriend in 1980. She was sentenced to 15 years in the slammer for that crime, which bore a striking resemblance to the slaying of Clark.

Judge Robert Billmeier handed down a 12-year sentence, more than the 10 years White’s attorney argued for but less than the 13 years prosecutors wanted.

“You would think she would know the consequences of stabbing someone,” Billmeier said, noting her previous homicide conviction. “I can’t forget the fact she killed someone in the past.”

White, who has been jailed for nearly two years, must serve more than 10 years of her sentence under the state’s No Early Release Act before she is eligible for parole.

Without the benefit of a plea deal that capped her exposure time to 13 years, White faced 30 years for aggravated manslaughter.

Casey DeBlasio, spokeswoman for the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, clarified after The Trentonian published its story that White only spent five years in prison for the 1980 homicide. Assistant Prosecutor James Scott did not mention that at White’s sentencing.

White was raised by abusive adoptive parents and struggled with an addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine and she said the abuse extended to her romantic life.

White contended she and Clark began arguing when he burst into her room while she was preparing clothes for church. He accused her of stealing money from her mother after he watched her slip a wallet under the mattress, then turned violent, White said.

After Clark allegedly slapped her, White said she “flashed back” to the times he beat her while they were dating. She fell on the floor, gathered herself and retrieved a seven-inch knife from the mantle, intending to scare Clark away.

White contends when Clark lunged at her “he came into the knife.”

“I hope [Clark’s] mother can forgive me,” White said. “I just want to get on with my life and do this time … and be a better person.”

Calling the case against his client a “close legal call” and an “aggravated assault gone bad,” defense attorney Patrick O’Hara said his client reacted poorly in a “highly charged” situation. He couldn’t put up a self-defense claim, but O’Hara said Clark’s conduct led to the violence, in what amounted to blame-the-victim rhetoric.

The defense attorney told the judge sending White to jail for decades was foolhardy because she is infirmed and because a longer jail sentence “will not have a longer deterring effect.”

“She’s been to prison before,” O’Hara said.

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