Teen killer’s sentence hangs in balance as troubling jailhouse recordings play in court

Back in May when a jury found Dakota White guilty of stabbing and strangling Sam Poss, whom he had lured out in the middle of the night in October 2016 under the guise of helping fix a computer, the jurors deliberated for all of maybe 15 minutes.

White has since waited months to learn of his punishment.

His accomplice that night has already been convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole. But that accomplice was 18 at the time of the killing.

White was 17.

Because of his age, a sentencing hearing is required when such serious punishment — imprisonment forever — is in the offing.

It has been more than a decade since the Supreme Court ruled that convicted killers under the age of 18 cannot be sentenced to death. However, life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are permitted, as the court has noted, for “the rarest of children, those whose crimes reflect ‘irreparable corruption.’ ”

Houston County prosecutors contend White, now 19, is exactly that. They want him behind bars the rest of his life. So do his victim’s parents.

They were the first ones to testify at Thursday’s sentencing hearing here. Christian Poss, Sam’s father, described White as “a cunning predator.”

Sam Poss, an 18-year-old computer whiz who was into making music and aspired to join the Navy and possibly work as an interpreter, was murdered the night of Oct. 15, 2016.

White and accomplice Brandon Warren picked up Poss at Poss’s father’s house in Perry after fooling him into thinking they had a computer problem, one that Sam Poss offered to fix.

White and Warren, two troubled friends, had hatched a plan to commit suicide together — but not before killing some random person just to see what it felt like to take a life. The pair then asphyxiated and stabbed Poss before dumping his body in some woods near Lake Joy.

“They used his kindness and altruistic nature to slaughter him,” Christian Poss, 48, said Thursday of his son’s killers.

Reading from a prepared statement, he added that “depraved animals who would (kill) someone because their kindness … will always be a danger. … Monsters who would kill a friend like this surely would not hesitate to kill a stranger.”

Christian Poss asked Judge Edward D. Lukemire to consider that “as long as my son Sam is gone from the world, keep (White) away from the good, decent people of the world.”

Nicole Poss, Sam’s mother, testified next. She recalled meeting White in the days after Sam was killed, while he was still believed to be missing and while people were searching for Sam.

Nicole Poss, 46, said White shook her hand and told her she hoped she found her son.

On the stand, she declared White a liar who “is and always will be dangerous.”

White, who confessed to friends and family before his arrest about a week after the killing, later spoke flippantly about the murder. His own words were presented Thursday as evidence of his incorrigibility.

Prosecutors played recordings of jailhouse phone calls, conversations that White had with friends, in the months while he was awaiting trial.

In one of those calls with a girlfriend, White, perhaps resorting to hollow braggadocio, referred to the county jail as “the best hotel I have ever stayed at.”

“They bring us food,” he said. “They cook for us. … We have the best medical plan.”

He also, as his lawyers pointed out, spoke of regret: “I had a perfectly good life, and I just threw it away. I would take it back, but I can’t. … I’m already getting what I deserve.”

White’s defense attorneys agreed that what he did “was evil and vile and despicable,” but he is not a lost cause. They told of his “drug-infested home life,” how he was a high-school dropout whose father is in prison and whose mother was a drug addict. They said he suffered abuse as a child and was exposed to domestic violence. They said he had “suicidal ideations” before he was 10 years old, and he bounced from home to home, relative to relative.

A psychologist testified and said all of that, coupled with the impulsivity of youth, could have contributed to White lashing out in violence, and White may not be beyond rehabilitating.

Diana White, an aunt who helped raise White, asked the judge to “have some mercy” with White’s sentence.

Her husband, Jonathan White, referred to Dakota as a son and apologized to the Poss family and to his nephew for not being there more as a father figure.

“I dropped the ball. … I’m sorry for that,” he said. “I shouldn’t have dropped the ball. And now Sams’ gone, and Dakota’s gone.”

The facts of the case, though, may prove most damning for Dakota White.

In sentencing White’s accomplice to life without parole, Lukemire told Warren, “Your blood was cold,” and that the killing was done “with no sane reason, just to see someone die.”

The judge likely won’t sentence White until early next month.

More testimony is expected Friday, and White himself will probably make a statement.

But his words heard in open court on Thursday, those played in recorded jailhouse phone calls, were troubling.

In a conversation with a friend, White, perhaps jokingly, referred to his family as “a bunch of traitors” for going to the police about his confessions to them. Then, speaking of the killing in general and what it has caused, White said, “I don’t care anymore. … I’m famous. … I was on CNN, dude.”

In another call, White could be heard chuckling, telling that same friend, an avid hunter, to “be a man, kill real people.”

When the friend asked if White was worried if what he was saying on the phone would be used against him, White replied, “I don’t care. I’m already going to prison.”

Later, one of his attorneys, Angie Coggins, read from a transcript of yet another jailhouse phone call, a call in which White sang a rap song he had written.

“Is it too late to go back to being a kid?” White sang. “It’s like every time I close my eyes … I see him die again — and that’s a scary sight.”