By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
Austin Williams likened the capture of Alabama fugitive Casey White, accused of killing Williams’ mother in 2015, to a “miracle,” saying Tuesday he did not expect White would be captured alive.
Williams, 42, and his family had been hoping for the best for Vicky White, the jailer accused of helping the fugitive escape a Lauderdale County detention center. News that she died, reportedly by taking her own life, is devastating, he said.
“That really saddens me because we were hoping and praying for the best outcome and this really isn’t it,” he said. “Our heart goes out to her family and her friends. We are very sad for her.”
The pair’s escape April 29 stirred a roller coaster of emotions, Williams said. Crushed by their matriarch’s fatal 2015 stabbing in Rogersville, Alabama, the family was relieved to learn Casey White had confessed to the killing in 2020, only to be disappointed when he recanted his confession and pleaded not guilty.
Still, the trial promised answers to many questions in Connie Ridgeway’s death — but that hope, too, was snatched away when the family learned White had escaped.
Now, the prospect for answers is back on the table, Williams said, and the family is elated.
“It was just absolutely brilliant news. There are really no words for it. It’s like a miracle,” he said in a phone interview from his father’s house, where he and his brother, Cameron, 40, were meeting before heading to an emergency hearing for White in Florence, Alabama.
Once in custody — following a car chase and wreck Monday in Indiana — White appeared via video at a hearing in Evansville, Indiana, where he told a judge he was waiving his right to extradition proceedings, saying, “I want to go back to Alabama.”
White appeared at the podium with five security officials.
Back in Alabama, Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said his team, too, would take measures to ensure White didn’t escape again, including putting him in a cell by himself.
“He will stay in handcuffs and shackles while he’s in that cell, and if he wants to sue me for violating his civil rights, so be it. He’s not getting out of this jail again. I’ll assure you that,” Singleton said.
White was returned to Alabama late Tuesday for an arraignment at the Lauderdale County courthouse. He listened as Circuit Judge Ben Graves informed him that in addition to the murder charges for Ridgeway’s death, he will also be charged with escape in the first degree. Less than 10 feet away, Austin Williams sat in the front row, watching White.
After the arraignment, Singleton met Austin and Cameron Williams outside the courthouse, shook their hands and apologized for White’s escape, assuring them he would not get away again.
White was transported to the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility, west of Birmingham. He’ll be housed there until another court hearing brings him back to Lauderdale County, Singleton said.
The one-time fugitive, who was serving a lengthy prison term for a violent crime spree, was a threat to the public and there had been reports he once tried to commit suicide by cop, Austin Williams said, so he felt the chances White would be arrested alive were slim. The possibility seemed slimmer when he learned Vicky White had executed a well-planned escape and had a hefty head start on authorities, he said.
White intended to have a shootout with law enforcement, and would have done so had pursuing officers not forced him to wreck in a ditch in Evansville, Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding said Tuesday.
Ridgeway was a mother of two, who never had a chance to meet her grandchildren. A patriot and a generous soul who had friends throughout Rogersville, she was also a strong Southern Baptist who gave rides to neighbors and crafted little angels out of felt to hand out to her friends and family.
She was a “never-met-a-stranger kind of person,” well-loved and appreciated by those who knew her, her son said. It never made sense that a violent criminal would target her, he said.
Williams would like to see Casey White’s capital murder trial expedited, he said, and he hopes to find out during the proceedings if White knew his mother, “how did he end up in her space, in her apartment” and whether any of the speculation over her slaying is true.
“The whole story really blows my mind completely,” Williams said. “Knowing the kind of person she is, the whole thing is really shocking. Nothing is going to make sense until it’s proven.”
The trial is slated for June 13, but defense attorney Jamy Poss said he plans to file a change-of-venue motion, which the judge said he would consider.
As for his family’s state late Tuesday morning, Williams said, “Everybody seems like they’re in better spirits.”
The incident reminds him of what he heard a pastor say back in his former hometown of Atlanta, he said: The best marriages are boring.
“You don’t appreciate normal as much as when you don’t have it and get it back,” he said. “Normal is not necessarily a bad thing. Normal and boring are not to be taken for granted.”
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CNN’s Omar Jimenez, Jamiel Lynch, Jaide Timm-Garcia and Nadia Romero contributed to this report.