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Psychologist: Woman guilty in girl's death shows signs of abuse

April 30, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN, MD. - A psychologist testified Tuesday that Donna Lynn White still shows signs of abuse she suffered from her parents, former husband and boyfriend 16 years after she began serving a life sentence for her role in the beating death of her 4-year-old daughter in Garrett County, Md.

White, 43, has asked the Washington County Circuit Court to review her case for defects with an eye toward gaining a new trial or a resentencing. A post-conviction hearing is separate from an appeal, which White lost in 1987.

Her trial was held in Washington County because of media attention in Garrett County.

The hearing is tentatively scheduled to resume Monday.

In the hearing Tuesday, White's attorney, Thomas Kennedy, began calling witnesses in an effort to show there were other problems with the trial. He contended that among other things, White did not receive adequate legal representation.

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Kennedy told Washington County Circuit Judge Donald E. Beachley that White's attorney during her 1986 jury trial, Michael Morrissette, was unprepared for the "circus atmosphere" that evolved around the trial, including assaults on White and the burning of White and her boyfriend's trailer home in Garrett County.

Morrissette apparently was unaware of evidence that would have helped show White's was innocent of the first-degree murder charge, Kennedy said. That evidence included testimony in which her boyfriend, Bruce Allen Sarver, had taken blame for the fatal beating of Brandy Lynn White, as well as evidence that Donna Lynn White had been abused.

In testimony Tuesday, Catherine Anderson, a Bethesda, Md., psychologist, said she had examined White and believed "she still meets criteria" of post-traumatic stress disorder that stemmed from "severe, unpredictable trauma beginning at childhood."

During cross-examination from Garrett County State's Attorney Lisa Thayer Welch, Anderson said that because of White's condition, she could have been unable to respond normally while Sarver beat her daughter over the course of several days in May 1986.

"It's unlikely that she would appropriately assess danger toward herself or toward her daughter," Anderson said.

Both White and Sarver were convicted in 1986 on first-degree murder and child abuse charges. Both received life sentences for the murder charges and 15 years for child abuse. Sarver lost his appeal in 1987.

Police said during White and Sarver's trials that Brandy Lynn White apparently had hidden nearly $700 in cash and food stamps, and Sarver and White beat the girl to coerce her to turn them over.

A Garrett County rescue squad found the child in a coma on May 18, 1986. She was declared brain dead 10 days later.

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