NEW PORT RICHEY — A jury on Friday evening found David Andrew White guilty of the murder of his wife Andrea.
White, 40, stood emotionless as the verdict was read.
The courtroom fell silent. Bailiffs fingerprinted the defendant. The victim's sister, Rhonda Draper, snapped a picture with her cell phone.
Then she sang:
"Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you."
Andrea White would have turned 36 on Friday.
White's lawyers rushed his family out of the courtroom. Bailiffs asked the victim's family and friends to stop singing.
They did. In the hallway they hugged and cried and called relatives across the country.
"It won't bring her back," Draper said. "But it brings us justice after almost three years."
• • •
Andrea White's family came to this week's trial with no illusions.
The state's case against David White was purely circumstantial. There wasn't even a solid cause of death.
"We were scared," Draper said afterward. "We couldn't allow ourselves to be confident. They couldn't link David directly to the crime."
But medical experts testified this week that they could not find a natural cause of death, either. That and the fact that the 33-year-old mother of four was found floating in a pond dressed for bed miles from home, led them to conclude it was murder.
The state believed David White suffocated his wife because she was about to leave him and take custody of the two daughters he and Andrea had together. Andrea White's two other children also lived with the couple.
Authorities say David White told conflicting stories about the night his wife disappeared, never reported her missing and even moved to New York with his two girls the day she was found.
White took the stand himself early Friday to tell his own story.
• • •
His wife had already demanded a divorce days before, White testified, when their marriage exploded the night of July 11, 2005, the day authorities believe she died.
Despite their troubles, David White said they were intimate that night. It ended in a fight. White said he went to sleep.
"Next thing I know I got hit in the face," he testified. "I opened my eyes and there she stood. She's standing over me with a pistol in her hand."
White's eyes turned red. Crying, he described what happened next:
"I want my life," he said Andrea White told him, "and she pulled the trigger. It didn't go. I thought I was gonna die."
White said he shoved his wife back. Then she stormed out, got into an unknown blue vehicle and disappeared.
"Did you cause the death of your wife?" asked Assistant Public Defender Dean Livermore.
"I would never hurt my wife," White cried. "I loved my wife."
• • •
White testified that after his wife left, he woke up the kids, packed them in the minivan, searched for his wife, and then took them to his mother's house in Tarpon Springs.
The state believes he removed the girls from the home so he could dispose of their mother's body.
Wouldn't the Sheriff's Office have been a safer place for them, asked Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis?
"You're looking for the woman who pulled the trigger," the prosecutor said, "who tried to kill you?"
"I didn't say I was the smartest person in the world, sir," White said.
White also said he left town because he feared his mother-in-law.
Janice Friend was convicted of manslaughter in Arkansas for gunning down an abusive husband. White said she threatened his life.
But Halkitis questioned the time frame.
"Your wife was only missing for what 12, 14 hours?" the prosecutor said. "You didn't know where she was. No one knew she was dead.
"But her mom is calling you, telling you she was going to (kill) you?"
It took the jury two hours to convict White. Sentencing is set for June 6.
• • •
Andrea White's four children grew up together.
But they have not been a family since her death.
Oldest brother Shae Mayes, now 14, was out of state when his mother went missing. He now lives in Arkansas with Draper, his aunt.
Before David White left town, he had 11-year-old Charlotte Bonarrigo's father come get her.
White only took his daughters, Sara, 8, and Sadie, 7, to New York with him. They're staying with his relatives there.
Andrea White's family doesn't know if they will fight the father's family for custody of Sara and Sadie.