First Alert 4 Investigates: New prosecutor on case of convicted murderer accused of attacking a grandmother at CWE Straub’s

Published: Aug. 18, 2023 at 6:28 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- The family of a St. Louis grandmother attacked in the Central West End by a convicted murderer out on parole said changes in the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office are making a difference.

For months First Alert 4 Investigates has been trying to get answers as the woman’s family and lawyers questioned how former Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s office handled the case.

The 70-year-old grandmother Paula, who asked to only be identified by her first name, was attacked in February as she walked into Straub’s in the Central West End.

The attack was captured on surveillance video, only seen on First Alert 4.

John White Jr., 59, was arrested and charged with the attack. The surveillance video appears to show White approach the woman outside the store, then hit and kick her. The video shows White follow the woman inside Straub’s, where he takes swings at employees and runs around the store.

“I’m just glad she’s alive,” the woman’s sister, Sheila, said.

Sheila says she and her sister Paula believe the case is now getting the attention it deserves. This month St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gabe Gore’s office put a new prosecutor on the case. Gore took over in May after Gardner resigned.

“We’re seeing a difference and they’re on it,” Shelia said. “I’m so glad we have someone new that understands the public, that understands the pain and hurt that my family and my sister have been going through.”

Nearly two decades ago court records show White admitted he shot into a St. Louis County home, killing Yvonne Gates, a 9-year-old girl playing inside. White was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He served 21.

It’s information Shelia says prosecutors in Gardner’s office didn’t tell her sister.

Reporting by First Alert 4 Investigates uncovered how days before the attack at Straub’s, White was arrested. Records the I-Team found show he was booked for a DUI and for assaulting a nurse and a police officer. Prosecutors at Gardner’s office never charged White so he walked free. That’s something else Shelia claims prosecutors didn’t tell her sister.

“It seemed like the case was just swept under the rug with Kim Gardner and you just didn’t have any honesty there, you didn’t have anyone that really cared about the public,” Sheila added.

When it came to the attack on Sheila’s sister, Gardner’s office first charged White with fourth-degree assault, which is a misdemeanor. A few weeks later a grand jury reviewed the case and bumped the charges up to 1st degree assault, a felony.

“She’s not the same sister, she’s fragile, she’s scared,” Sheila said.

First Alert 4 Investigates reached out to Gardner asking about the case multiple times while she was in office. Her office declined interviews. When asked about White’s case in May before Gardner resigned, her 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.”

While Sheila says her sister Paula isn’t ready to talk about what happened, she believes Paula’s voice will be represented. In a matter of days since the new prosecutor has been assigned the case, Sheila says she’s seen changes.

“His office has reached out to my sister and it makes a big difference, it makes her feel like she’s somebody,” Shelia added.

In a statement to First Alert 4 Investigates, Circuit Attorney Gabe Gore wrote:

“It is a priority for this office to hold violent criminals accountable and work closely with victims to make sure that they understand the process and the status of pending cases. Our approach in Mr. White’s case reflects how we intend to approach all cases where someone has been a victim of a violent crime.”

White is being held in the St. Louis city jail and has not been given bond.

At last check, no trial date has been set.

Paula’s lawyer Scott Sherman provided the following statement to First Alert 4 Investigates:

“On behalf of our client Paula, who was viciously and horrifically attacked by a convicted murderer, while simply buying a piece of cake one morning at Straub’s in the Central West End, we are so grateful to Gabe Gore and his assistant Circuit Attorney, Andrew Russek and his team at the Circuit Attorney’s office for their commitment to seeking justice against the person who attacked her and for all of the victims of senseless violent crime in the city of St Louis.

We know that Mr. Gore’s dedication to justice and commitment to crime victims and their rights is the right path, not just for Paula, and crime victims, but for the entire city of St Louis and we look forward to working with him and his staff, on this case, and in his pursuit for the redemption of the office that he is reforming. All of us are better together, with him, as Circuit Attorney.”