On a Tuesday morning in January of 2006, Larry Felton White Jr. came home from a convenience store and saw his next-door neighbor Kevin Drew standing outside, close to White’s lawn. White suspected at the time that Drew may have been involved in a burglary of his home and began arguing with him, and the fight turned physical. A chase ensued, and ended when White shot Drew three times.
Even though White, then age 31, was charged with second-degree murder—a charge that requires intent—he maintains that he shot Drew in self-defense. Drew and had punched White hard enough that his tooth landed in the front yard.
The day after the shooting, Dr. Margarita Arruza, then the Duval County medical examiner tasked with doing autopsies of all murder victims, autopsied Drew and made a finding, based on the pooling of the blood, that one of the gunshots was fired post-mortem. This fit with the prosecution’s theory that White had chased Drew down and shot him even as the man lay dying. London Kite, the same prosecutor who tried Marissa Alexander, argued that White pursued Drew with the intent to kill him, proven by the fact that he had shot Drew when he was already dead. White was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life. But his case was reversed on appeal because of an error in jury instructions.
In preparation for retrial, in May of 2010 Larry White’s new counsel deposed Dr. Arruza, and the deposition was unusual. Arruza seemed distant and forgetful. The prosecutor asked Arruza if she remembered the question being asked at one point, and appeared to go to great lengths to guide Arruza through the deposition, clarifying questions. Arruza stopped and seemed confused about her own notes. “I’m just getting confused,” she confesses at one point.
According to White, his attorneys made a comment to prosecutor London Kite because they were concerned about Arruza’s health. Kite was also present at the deposition. But nothing further came of the interaction.
A few months later, in September of that year, Pat McGuinness deposed Dr. Arruza for the case of Shantell Serrant. He noticed the same problems—Arruza seemed confused and disoriented, taking a break midway through to compose herself. The transcript includes several places where the reader can infer that Arruza appears to not remember details or misunderstands the question. At one point, Arruza is shown a skull.
Q. Where is the fracture?
A. Well, that’s what I’m…
Q. Parietal bone, the occipital bone, the sphenoid bone, the mastoid process, where is the fracture?
A. Well, it looks like it’s a skull.
Aruzza’s answer was followed by the prosecutor’s request for a break.
By December of 2010, at least some employees in the ME’s office appear to have known that Dr. Arruza was suffering from a form of dementia causing memory loss. According to e-mails located through a FOIA request, State Attorney Angela Corey’s office scheduled a meeting with Arruza in October. While the contents of the meeting aren’t known, following e-mails indicate that everyone agreed that Dr. Valerie Rao would take over the medical examiner’s office and begin to testify in place of Arruza. According to records, Arruza stopped conducting autopsies after September; Rao is still serving as chief medical examiner today.