Wednesday, June 27, 2001

NEWS - Lawyer: Husband not shooter - Police question many who knew victim of Lansing zoo killing

Lawyer: Husband not shooter
Police question many who knew victim of Lansing zoo killing
Lansing State Journal
Lansing, Mich.
June 27, 2001

State police Detective Sgt. Artis White didn't shoot and kill his wife, Bernita, at Potter Park, White's attorney said Tuesday.

David Clark said Lansing police interviewed the trooper for six hours after Saturday's slaying at the south Lansing park and zoo.

But Clark says Bernita's husband of 11 years is no more a suspect than the other people detectives are questioning in a case that drew national headlines.

"My understanding is there are a lot of suspects,'' he said.

Detectives have interviewed more than 20 people who knew Bernita White, Lt. Raymond Hall said.

Lansing Police Chief Mark Alley wouldn't say Tuesday whether anyone is considered a prime suspect.

Police say everyone who knew the Delta Township woman is a suspect.

Hall said detectives are disappointed in a letter from Clark asking them to refrain from interviewing White for 14 days.

The break will let White "grieve, bury his wife and try to explain this tragedy to his children,'' Clark said.

Hall said investigators respect that.

"But it's disappointing he's chosen to delay talking to investigators,'' he said. "We have one objective: to solve this crime. We're going to need Mr. White's assistance."

Bernita White, 41, was Lansing's second homicide victim of the year and the second in a three-day period. She will be buried Friday.

No one reported seeing who fired the gun.

Hall said a videotape by a park patron Saturday has been very helpful to investigators. He wouldn't say what was on the tape.

White was shot once just after 3:30 p.m. while walking next to the couple's 5-year-old daughter toward the zoo's entrance.

Artis White told investigators he'd dropped off his wife and 5- year-old daughter at Potter Park Saturday, Clark said. He left to pick up their 7-year-old daughter at a birthday party in a Delta Township park.
He arrived at Potter Park at 4:30 p.m., expecting to pick up his wife and daughter. Instead, police told him she was dead.

White's death was likely not an accident. And whoever shot her is "more than likely proficient with a rifle,'' Hall said.

"You've got a moving target, and the person or persons were about 100 yards away,'' he said.

Investigators haven't found the bullet - probably fired from about 100 yards away. The bullet hit Bernita White in the left arm, pierced her heart and exited her right side.

The park and zoo reopened Monday after it was closed for two days while police searched for the slug.

Investigators haven't focused on a motive.

Police are saying little about their investigation, but they're looking at Bernita White's relationships.

She filed for divorce on May 24, according to Eaton County Circuit Court records.

Bernita sought full custody of their two children pending the outcome of the divorce. Artis wanted joint custody, according to court records. Circuit Judge Thomas Eveland ruled on June 15 that the Whites would have joint custody.

The divorce and custody battle doesn't implicate his client, Clark said.

"They were living in the same house, there was never a personal protection order, there were no allegations of physical abuse,'' Clark said.

Artis White is a detective in the private security and investigation unit, state police spokesman David Verhoegstrate said. He's been with the state police since August 1998.

Verhoegstrate wouldn't comment on the Lansing police investigation.

About 10 p.m. Saturday, state police troopers in Detroit told White's mother, 67-year- old Barbara Sims, that her daughter was shot and killed. The Detroit woman died of a heart attack after hearing the news.'

Visitation for Bernita White is from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Riley Funeral Home, 426 W. St. Joseph St. Funeral services are 1 p.m. Friday at Union Missionary Baptist Church, 1020 W. Hillsdale St.

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