Emotions were high in the courtroom when Preston Wallace appeared for sentencing.
The Tuesday, Oct. 31, sentencing followed his previous guilty plea to a Class 3 felony involuntary manslaughter charge. Family members of the victim, Gary White, 69, made it clear with their victim impact statements they did not agree with letting Wallace plead to a lesser charge than murder and then face a possible maximum of five years in prison.
Samantha White, the deceased’s daughter, claimed the state’s attorney’s office should have fought harder to obtain a murder conviction rather than accepting a manslaughter plea.
“It’s not fair he will only do five years, and we have to do a life sentence,” said Samantha White, detailing the love and closeness Gary White brought to his family.
She added since the Aug. 6, 2022, incident when Preston Wallace hit her father she, and other family members, have been subjected to harassing text messages, being followed and no action was taken by authorities to address those complaints.
Dianna Melton, the ex-wife of John White, read a statement on behalf of her daughter Jamaica White. According to the statement, Jamaica White was returning home on Central Street on Aug. 6, 2022, when she encountered police cars with emergency lights activated and stopped in the road. She saw her father Gary White prostate in the street and her brother John White attempting to revive the older man.
The statement also discussed the agonizing decision the family faced after Gary White’s medical care was transferred to an Indianapolis, Ind., hospital where doctors advised there was no hope.
“This is a slap in the face by the justice system,” Jamaica White wrote, claiming the defendant sent a text message following the incident with an intended humorous comment about what happened.
Melton also gave a victim’s impact statement acknowledging that even though she and Gary White were divorced, they remained on good terms and socialized during family gatherings. She described him as a good man, a good father, a good grandfather and a respected, trusted member of the community to whom people gave housekeys to so he could do repair work.
Referring to the Old Testament’s eye-for-an-eye punishment code, Melton questioned the justice of a few years in prison for taking the life of a good man by a person who has, she claimed, shown no remorse.
This story started Aug. 6, 2022, with an altercation between John White, son of the deceased Gary White, and Gabriel Wallace, father of the defendant.
During a Sept. 1, 2022, probable cause hearing, investigators testified regarding what happened based upon interviews with witnesses regarding a fight in the middle of Central Street between Gabriel Wallace and John White that stopped traffic.
Authorities were told while the two men were fighting in the street a car pulled up and another man got out. The third man was Gary White and witnesses told investigators Gary White was not acting in an aggressive manner but appeared to be trying to stop the fight.
That is when Preston Wallace entered the scene and witnesses said Preston Wallace hit Gary White, causing the older man to fall to the ground. Preston Wallace then started hitting John White. Both Gabriel and Preston Wallace fled the scene before the police arrived but were identified as participants in the fight by John White.
Preston Wallace was subsequently allowed to take a blind plea to the felony manslaughter charge and did so. The blind plea means he made the guilty plea without an agreed disposition and sentencing was at the judge’s discretion.
That is where the matter stood Tuesday morning when Preston Wallace appeared in custody before Judge Derek J. Girton for sentencing.
Defense attorney Maria Thompson called the defendant’s maternal aunt Kristen Rigdon to the stand to testify about Preston Wallace’s childhood. The witness told the court as a youth the defendant saw his mother subjected to domestic violence, and he tried to find a positive male role model to identify with since Gabriel Wallace was largely absent and uninvolved.
According to Rigdon, the defendant began developing mental health issues by high school and when he went to vocational school increased self-medication with illicit substances to cope. She attributed many of her nephew’s issues to a desire to rectify a non-existent bond with his father, and confirmed the defendant was staying with his father in August 2022.
The witness acknowledged under cross-examination by Edgar County State’s Attorney Timothy Gilbert she has no expertise in mental health or addiction treatment.
“If you have to request your own father to see you, that’s a disappointing experience,” said Rigdon.
Gilbert pointed to three aggravating factors justifying a sentence to the Department of Corrections during his closing argument to the court — the seriousness of the crime, the need to deter others from such action and the age of the victim.
Anything less than prison, Gilbert argued deprecates the ends of justice because the White family was seriously harmed.
A message of deterrence is needed so others finding themselves in a similar situation might pause before acting
“Physical violence should always be a last resort, and before engaging in violence one should consider the repercussions,” said Gilbert. “Mr. Wallace did not do that. Mr. Wallace agreed in his plea his actions were reckless and he did not contemplate his actions.”
Gilbert reminded the court the statutes allow the court to consider Gary White’s age as an aggravating factor because the law holds people older than 60 are less able to defend themselves.
“This is not a tragedy Preston Wallace set out to do,” Thompson said to open her argument for a probation sentence.
At times during Thompson’s argument, audible comments were heard from the White family members and Girton issued a warning for members of the gallery to remain silent or face expulsion. Some people voluntarily left during the remaining comments.
Thompson told the court the defense had planned to use a defense of others argument had the matter gone to trial.
“Preston Wallace heard his father yell for help,” said Thompson, claiming Preston Wallace was attempting to render aid to his father, whom he perceived as being outnumbered.
Defense counsel revisited Rigdon’s testimony about Preston Wallace needing a connection to his father.
“This was a time he believed he could get love from his father,” said Thompson, noting Gabriel Wallace’s continued failure as a father by leaving his son to face this case alone without moral support. “His father’s not here (at the sentencing).”
Preston Wallace was given an opportunity to make a statement in allocution to the court. Before he started to read his prepared statement, he began shaking and weeping. After regaining composure, he apologized for what happened saying the White family did not deserve the pain members are experiencing. He stressed his intent was not to kill and at the time believed he was acting in defense of his father.
“I have learned violence is never the answer,” Wallace said. “I made a terrible mistake, and I regret it every day.”
Before pronouncing the sentence, Girton acknowledged the White family’s pain.
“Nothing that happens here today is going to resolve what the family is going through,” said the judge. “The justice system is not set up for that.”
He emphasized it is neither the court’s, nor the state’s attorney’s, role to implement a biblical calling for vengeance. The ends of justice also require trying to prevent this from happening again.
Girton said it is understandable when victims’ families second guess decisions made by the prosecution, but added families, and even judges, are never as familiar with the facts as the prosecutors and the defense attorneys.
“I’m not going to second guess Mr. Gilbert’s decision,” Girton said.
Something complicating his decision is the sentence options open to the court. He explained a five-year prison sentence will not be a full five years because Illinois Department of Corrections administrative rules allow day-for-day credit for good behavior, cutting the sentence in half. Plus, Wallace is entitled to credit for the more than 400 days he has sat in the Edgar County Jail awaiting resolution of this case.
“He is likely to do six months, and six months does not deal with the situation,” said Girton. “I need to determine how to deal with this individual, so he is not back here again.”
Girton found a 30-month probation sentence gives the court more direct control over Wallace and his future behavior, including following orders to obtain a mental health evaluation and complete any recommended treatment for addiction and anger management. If Wallace fails to comply, the state can pull him back on a petition to revoke, where he would face a prison sentence once again.
The court’s final comments were directed at the defendant emphasizing the tremendous break the state allowed him.
“Mr. Wallace you could have spent the rest of your life in prison,” said Girton, adding this conviction is now a weight that will follow him if he ever appears in any courtroom on another violence or threat charge, even if it is sending a threatening text.
Wallace was remanded to custody for processing and release from jail.