CONCHO — William Jason White, 44, of Concho has pleaded guilty for the stabbing death of Craig James Huffman on Jan. 2, 2021, on the kitchen floor of a mobile home of persons known to both men on Apache County Road 5051.
The case had been headed to a jury trial set to begin next week on a first-degree, premeditated murder charge, carrying a possible life sentence, but the parties agreed on White pleading guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder that carries a range of prison sentence of between 10 and 25 years. The charges of burglary and tampering with evidence are to be dismissed.
White’s plea was scheduled for Nov. 7 and the case was assigned to Judge Pro Tem Robert Higgins because the pro tem judge handling the main docket that day was Garrett Whiting, a former prosecutor in the Apache County Attorney’s Office. In order to avoid the appearance of impropriety (Whiting may have been in that office when White was charged) the matter was sent to another judge that day.
The case started when an Apache County sheriff’s deputy responded to a residence where callers had said that a man later identified as Huffman, a local contractor, had been stabbed in the chest. The deputy arrived around 10:25 p.m. and observed a “deceased white male ... laying on his back in the kitchen floor,” according to court records.
The deputy recognized Huffman from “previous calls for service.” He also noticed a large pool of blood next to the body and “footwear sole impressions in the blood on the kitchen floor.” Huffman was pronounced dead about 30 minutes after the call was received.
According to deputies, at least four persons were living at the residence on CR 5051 at the time: a man and his wife, who is reported to be Huffman’s ex-wife, and a mother and adult daughter. Huffman was there to pay some of the occupants who had performed work for his company, Huffy Construction.
Sometime during the evening, the group had a visitor, a woman named Misty Elam, whom deputies said lives with White and her children a few blocks away near the intersection of CR 5053 and CR 5054. Elam allegedly came over to visit and drink “shots,” witnesses said according to court documents. Deputies describe Elam as “not being cooperative and not being direct in what she had witnessed,” stated deputies. She claims that she was in the “backroom taking shots,” when she heard noises. She later told White’s mother (who lived in Concho) that because Elam suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, she didn’t remember what happened.
One witness told deputies that she opened the door to White who demanded to know, “Where is he?” pushed himself into the residence, ran toward Huffman and they struggled. The man of the house said he saw White, wearing a black-leather jacket, holding a knife to Huffman’s neck while the men were on the floor and that White left the residence on foot, and took the knife with him.
At least four people identified White as being in the residence and because White was apparently known to them, deputies had no trouble finding the “goose-neck fifth wheel” in which White was reportedly staying with Elam and the children near CR 5053 and 5054. At about 1 a.m. deputies went to White’s lot and interviewed him. They noticed that he had blood on his hands, observed and impounded a black-leather jacket, a vest, blue jeans and shoes that had a “reddish-brown substance consistent with blood,” on all the items. They also recovered a “Milwaukee camo knife,” the blade of which is reportedly about 3 inches. In fact, deputies showed the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Huffman a picture of the knife that the doctor opined was consistent with the wounds on Huffman.
White told deputies that Huffman was Elam’s ex-boyfriend. White denied being at the residence but did not have an answer to the deputies’ question about why four adults would each say that he was present at their residence a few hours earlier.
A family member of Huffman told the White Mountain Independent that Huffman had $5,000 in cash in his wallet in order to pay the workers, and that by the time the deputies made their reports the money was gone. The family member said that investigators were dismissive of him about that and were downright rude to him.
About six weeks after the murder, on Feb. 18, 2021, prosecutors filed a new set of charges against White. They allege that in July 2020 he broke the finger of Misti Elam, wrecked the tires on her trailer, and assaulted a minor under 15 years of age by throwing a beer bottle at her that hit the child in the face and caused an eye injury and a bloody nose. At a preliminary hearing last year, the court threw out the broken-finger charge because no medical records were produced to show the claimed injury, but allowed the other charges to proceed to trial. There is no mention of the February charges in the second-degree murder plea agreement and nothing of public record in the February case as well, but typically the charges would be dismissed in partial exchange for White’s plea on the murder case.
Finally, recent court filings shed some light on the defense and it has to do with White’s mental health. A statute in Arizona’s criminal law allows a defendant to request a mental health examination “if the defendant was under unusual or substantial distress, although not to a degree that would constitute a defense to prosecution,” wrote defense counsel Michael S. Penrod. He also asked the court to appoint a “mitigation specialist” at a rate of $85 per hour to evaluate White and report the specialist’s opinion to the judge.
That is especially important in this case, because the terms of the plea agreement give Presiding Judge Michael Latham complete discretion of the prison time to be imposed within the range of years described above. Also, the agreement stated that prosecutor Celeste Robertson would not urge White’s alleged prior felony conviction to mandatorily enhance the sentence, but can be argued as “aggravators” allowing the judge to tend toward the higher end of the range.
White’s next court date is Jan. 10.
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