A former Episcopal priest who has faced child sexual abuse allegations across several states has admitted to raping several children in Haywood County.
Howard White’s admission to his previous offenses came as part of a plea arrangement that was solidified in Haywood County Superior Court under Judge Thomas Lock on Monday morning.
The plea came after White, 78, was held in Haywood County for over a year. He initially faced a litany of felonies related to the alleged sexual abuse of multiple children spanning almost two decades, including first-degree forcible rape, second-degree forcible rape, second-degree forcible sex offense and indecent liberties with a child. He had been out on bond since May and was residing in Buncombe County.
White lived in Haywood County from 1984-2006, during which time he acted as the rector for Waynesville’s Grace Church in the Mountains. Prior to returning to Haywood to face his pending charges here, he was being held at a county correctional facility in Boston after pleading guilty to five counts of assault and battery related to the 1973 sexual abuse of a boy.
Earlier this year, Haywood County’s Resident Superior Court Judge, Brad Letts, issued a written order stating that Howard White’s trial must be held Oct. 21, 2019. At a hearing held last Thursday, defense attorneys Sean Devereux of Asheville and Thomas Pavlinic of Annapolis, Maryland, requested the trial be delayed until March of next year, however, visiting Superior Court, Judge Thomas Locke denied the motion, setting the trial in stone.
But as Oct. 21 approached, behind closed doors, Devereux and Pavlinic worked out a plea deal with District Attorney Ashley Welch’s Office that allowed White to plead guilty to several felonies.
Although he was initially facing some first-degree forcible rape charges, under the plea, those were all downgraded, and White ultimately pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree forcible rape, eight counts of second-degree forcible sex offense and seven counts of indecent liberties with a child.
In the courtroom Monday were White’s attorneys, Waynesville Police Lt. Chris Chandler, Welch and Assistant District Attorney Jeff Jones, as well as the four victims and their families.
The details of the assaults, as read into the record by Welch, were horrendous. White used not only his position of power within the church to abuse children, but also his status as a guardian ad litem. Two of the four victims were troubled teens who came to stay briefly with White, who was at the time considered a responsible adult. In addition, he frequently used alcohol as a means to both draw close to and impair his victims.
White was ultimately sentenced to 12 years in prison, minus just over a year of pre-trial confinement and will have to register as a sex offender. Although there are accusations in other states against White, because of those states' statutes of limitations, charges cannot be filed in those matters.
Check Wednesday's Mountaineer for more details regarding White's guilty plea.