News 4 Investigates: Convicted murderer accused of attacking a grandmother at Straub’s was arrested and released days before

The family of a St. Louis grandmother attacked by a convicted murderer in the Central West End believes the man should never have been out on parole.
Published: May. 15, 2023 at 10:34 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- The family of a St. Louis grandmother attacked by a convicted murderer in the Central West End believes the man should never have been out on parole.

News 4 Investigates uncovered a crime spree that has been kept in the dark until now.

“He should not have ever been on the streets,” the victim’s sister, Sheila, said. “He’s an animal.”

Sheila asked News 4 to use her first name to try and protect her sister’s identity.

News 4 Investigates obtained surveillance video of the February attack that shows Sheila’s 70-year-old sister walking into Straub’s off Kingshighway Boulevard.

Police records show on Feb. 23, the grandmother stopped at the store around 8 a.m. According to the police report, the woman told officers she was walking into the store when she noticed a man trying to get into her car and called 911. The surveillance video appears to show the man grabbing the grandmother while she is on the phone, knocking her to the ground, and kicking her.

Police responded to the scene and arrested John White Jr., a 59-year-old convicted of murder in a 1999 shooting in St. Louis County. Police said White hit an officer in the face, and he was found standing in the middle of Kingshighway after the woman was assaulted.

“My sister will never be the same at all. She just won’t,” Sheila said.

A few days before the attack at Straub’s, White had a run-in with police in St. Louis’ College Hill neighborhood, and ended up in jail, information previously unknown to the public. News 4 Investigates obtained a police report stating White hit a parked car while speeding on Feb. 19 and didn’t stop until crashing into city flower planters. Police found him on the sidewalk with a large bottle of liquor, the report says.

Police claim White told EMTs he had cocaine in his system. Officers found what was suspected to be crack cocaine along with a glass pipe.

White then went to the hospital, where police say he poked an officer in the face and inappropriately touched a nurse.

Police arrested White for allegedly driving while intoxicated and two counts of misdemeanor assault. White was not subsequently charged, allowing him to leave jail.

Some of this comes down to how arrest warrants are handled in the city of St. Louis. Police used to take a case and walk into the courthouse, where the Circuit Attorney’s Office would decide if there was enough evidence to charge someone with a crime. The COVID-19 pandemic stopped that, and since then, cases have been emailed to prosecutors.

“I don’t know what people have to do to get arrested in this town, but if punching police officers and groping nurses isn’t it, it’s a free for all in the city of St. Louis, and it’s outrageous,” Scott Sherman, the attorney representing Sheila’s sister, said.

Sherman is questioning how police and prosecutors handle cases, known as pending applications of warrant (PAW). They are cases investigated by police and subsequently sent to prosecutors with evidence for possible charges. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) said the latest count of pending applications was 3,877.

“It sends a message to the criminal and would-be criminals out there that it’s a free-for-all,” Sherman said.

Police said they can’t keep everyone in jail, so some, like White, are released. When asked by News 4 Investigates what happened in his case, an SLMPD spokesperson said it was added to the pending application of warrant list “while we await the Missouri Highway Patrol lab results.” White is accused of driving while intoxicated, and it is common to have blood results sent to the state lab.

The Circuit Attorney’s office declined an interview about the case. When asked about White’s case, a spokesperson responded with the following statement, “If the police bring over a case and flag it as a public safety issue, it is reviewed expeditiously.”

“If those two acts alone, assault against a police officer and a nurse trying to help him, aren’t enough to get this guy locked up and charged, I don’t know what would,” Sherman said.

The police report doesn’t mention White’s murder conviction. Court records show he pleaded guilty in the 1999 case, admitting he shot into a St. Louis County home and killed a 9-year-old girl playing inside.

He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He served 21 of those years. He was paroled in August 2021, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Sherman said he believes White’s arrest on Feb. 19, 2023, should not have been kept quiet.

“There’s a reason. The public has a right to know these things; it’s so that we can educate, inform, and reform problems that are going on,” Sherman said.

Four days later, the assault at Straub’s happened. News 4 Investigates obtained surveillance video of that incident that shows a bird’s-eye view of the attack.

“I know my sister doesn’t want to watch it,” Sheila said.

The video shows Sheila’s sister running into the store, followed by White. He appears uncontrollable, taking swings at employees and causing a scene before he rushes back outside.

“She’s scared to go out, she’s scared to go to the store, she’s scared to go to her car,” Sheila said.

Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s office first charged White with fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor. A few weeks later, a grand jury reviewed the case and bumped the charges up to first-degree assault, a felony.

“It’s a shame because you would think that you would be protected by the people that you elected, and you are not,” Sheila said.

Sheila claims her sister has been kept in the dark. Prosecutors never told her about White’s arrest for the alleged DWI and assault just days before.

“Kim Gardner allowed this to happen. She allowed this to happen, so I blame her,” Sheila said.

White is currently being held in jail without bond. He has only been charged in the Straub’s assault. The arrest for DWI days before is still pending review from prosecutors.

News 4 will continue to follow this case as new developments happen.