Originally Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2012, 8:44 pm
Last Updated: Jan. 24, 2012, 10:48 pm

White sentenced to four years in prison for driving mower with revoked license

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By Stephen Elliott, selliott@qconline.com

For the sixth time in his life, William "Pete" White is heading to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

A Mercer County judge sentenced the former Viola man Tuesday to four years in prison for driving with a revoked license back on July 18, 2011. Mr. White, 43, was arrested for driving a riding mower through town.

Mr. White's defense attorney, Dan Dalton, argued he never had seen someone sent to prison for driving a mower. Judge Greg Chickris said he also considered other factors, such as Mr. White's 57 prior convictions for various criminal felony and misdemeanor offenses, the first when he was 15 years old.

"He (Mr. White) was basically on a crime spree here," Judge Chickris said. "He has a horrendous history of prior delinquency and criminal activity."

This was Mr. White's 11th conviction for driving on a revoked license, according to Mercer County Probation and Court Services Director Vicky Hansen. He has been convicted six times for driving under the influence of alcohol, she said.

Judge Chickris also sentenced Mr. White to two years of probation for violating an order of protection in July and resisting arrest in August, both Class A misdemeanors. Mr. White also was ordered to pay $113 restitution to the Aledo Walmart for an August theft.

Although police have made no arrests, Mr. White remains under investigation for the Oct. 22 death of his estranged wife, Melissa White, who was found outside her Viola home with multiple skull fractures.

His wife had filed two orders of protection against him — one in 2009 and the second in July 2011 — and claimed he had "threatened to kill me." Months before her death, she also said Mr. White threatened to burn her house down and harassed her, her mother, her sister and two friends via text, phone calls and voice mail.

Witnesses Tuesday painted two different portraits of Pete White. His uncle, Don White, said his nephew was wonderful to his children, ages 6 and 4, and started to cry. "It was nothing but affection," he said.

His aunt, Betty White, of Sycamore, acknowledged Mr. White had a substance abuse problem she didn't condone but said he was a good father with his kids. "He adores them. He loves them," she said. "He was very good with them."

Other witnesses said Mr. White sent about a dozen threatening text messages and phone calls to his estranged wife and her friends. They ended with, "Kill Them All," said Viola Police Chief Tom Mulder.

Linda Schroeder, Mercer County's victim witness coordinator, testified Ms. White was in the courtroom Oct. 18 when Mr. White pleaded guilty to violating the most recent protection order. Ms. Schroeder said Mr. White glared at Ms. White, and she took the woman to her first floor courthouse office to get her away from her husband.

"He (Mr. White) was pacing out front looking into the window," Ms. Schroeder said. "We shut the blinds. We waited half an hour. A deputy walked her to her car."

Before his sentencing, Mr. White admitted he had made mistakes. He told Judge Chickris that most of the people in the courtroom wanted him to go back to prison.

"Anybody can send me to prison for four years," Mr. White told the judge. "There's no challenge in that. Give me a chance. I'm fighting for my kids. I'm fighting for me.

"I've got a strong will to survive," he said, acknowledging his substance abuse problem. "If not for me, then for my kids."

Mercer County State's Attorney Greg McHugh said Mr. White had a lengthy history of substance abuse and, since his October plea, had been caught out drinking several times.

"And who knows what else he's been doing," Mr. McHugh said. "When people use crack cocaine, they can get out of control real quick."

Judge Chickris agreed.

Mr. White smiled after the sentencing, turned to those behind him and swore as Mercer County Sheriff Tom Thompson walked across the room to handcuff him.

Outside, Ms. White's family and friends cried and mostly declined comment. Chris Brewer, one of her friends, said there was more to Ms. White's life than a bad marriage and fear of her husband.

"She was a wonderful person," Ms. Brewer said. "She was an artist, a free person, a beautiful soul.

"She was the mother that always took the time out to spend with her two kids. She set the table out for the tea party," Ms. Brewer said. "Melissa did that for her kids."