Monday, January 31, 2011

The Impending Execution of Roy Willard Blankenship

[Note: This post was written prior to the stay granted to Roy Willard Blankenship. His execution has been re-scheduled for some time between 23 and 30 June, 2011.]

Roy Willard Blankenship is scheduled to be executed by the people of Georgia on 9 Feb 2011 for the rape and murder of 78-year-old Sarah Mims Bowen. I find no credible evidence that Blankenship might be factually innocent of the crime.

For those of you convinced that we execute only guilty people, I suggest you consider the many cases of people wrongfully executed. Examples include (but are no means limited to) Johnny Frank Garrett, Frances Elaine Newton, and Cameron Todd Willingham.

For those of you opposed to the death penalty under any condition, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the details of some of the crimes for which people are condemned to die. For the details of the crime committed by Roy Willard Blankenship, I offer the following description taken from his appeal Blankenship v. Hall.
At around 4:15 p.m. on March 2, 1978, officers from the Savannah Police Department responded to a call at 404 West 44th Street. They were directed to the second-floor apartment of Sarah Mims Bowen. Several members of Bowen's family already had arrived, having been contacted by her downstairs neighbor. Inside the apartment, police found a blood-stained paper towel in the living room. In the bedroom, the body of 78-year-old Bowen lay dead and naked on her bed. She had bruises on her arms and hands, and her face was beaten and bloodied. A plastic bottle of hand lotion had been forced into her vagina.
There were footprints found on the porch outside Bowen's apartment. Police found similar prints inside the apartment. Outside the house, they traced the prints from the bannister supporting the porch southwest along the ground towards the street, in the general direction of the apartment of Roy Willard Blankenship.
Dr. Rodrick Guerry performed an autopsy. He determined Bowen had been severely beaten, suffering repeated blows to her face. Bowen had preexisting chronic pericarditis and arteriosclerosis, and the autopsist attributed Bowen's death to heart failure precipitated by a severe assault. The autopsy also revealed she had been vaginally raped. Semen was found in her vagina, which tests demonstrated came from a blood type-O individual. Both Blankenship and Bowen were type-O. In addition, Dr. Guerry stated the inside of Bowen's mouth and throat were red and bloodied, injuries consistent with oral rape. However, tests did not reveal the presence of semen. Scrapings beneath the nails on Bowen's right hand also tested positive for type-O. Based on the condition of the body, the coroner concluded Bowen had been raped while alive, was beaten, and suffered heart failure as a result.
A fingerprint lifted from glass broken in from the balcony and found inside the apartment matched Blankenship. On March 11, an arrest warrant for Blankenship was prepared, as well as search warrants for his apartment. Inside the apartment, police found shoes belonging to Blankenship whose tracks matched those found in and around Bowen's apartment.
Police arrested Blankenship and he waived his right to remain silent. Blankenship spoke with police and described his presence in Bowen's apartment in the early morning of March 2, 1978. His oral statement was transcribed, and he signed the transcription. In it, he confessed to the following:
I went up on the iron rail on the side of the porch and climbed over the banister. I stood up there for a few minutes thinking, what the hell, I really didn't know what to think. I had to be drunk. Stoned. And I kicked the window in and I waited. When I kicked the window in to see if anybody heard it, I could've got shot or something. I guess I should have. It would have been better. I went in through the window, I think. I scraped my arm on the window. I don't think it cut it. I went into the next room, I saw no one. Just the bedroom. I looked around there and the door was opened into the next room. I went up to the door and started to go through when I saw a mirror straight ahead in the next room where the lady was. I seen her reflection through the mirror sitting in a chair so I stood beside the door for awhile watching her pray or something. Moaning. I don't know. Then I grabbed her. I think her mouth so she did not scream. [sic] I covered her mouth and her nose and then she slid down in the chair. She fell on the floor and I fell on top of her. After I fell over on top of her I didn't have to hold her mouth or anything. She was not screaming or kicking or anything. So this blood was coming out of her head, I think, on the right side. I think. I pushed this little stool back and I picked her up and I carried her and laid her on the bed. All right. I put her on the bed. She had some pajamas on, I think. I took them off. It's crazy. When I put her on the bed and took her clothes off, I was drunk, I guess. I said I may as well go ahead and get some pleasure. That's when I had the relationship with her. As far as I know, I thought I was in the right hole. After that I got up and was afraid that I might have hurt her. I thought I'd better get out of there. I left as soon as I did that shit. I left. I went the same way I came. I was wearing the same shoes that the police confiscated from my house today. I watched her about 10 minutes. After I grabbed her she fell to the floor and I put her on the bed. Right after that I shot off or got my pleasure or whatever you want to call it. I put back on my clothes and left. It probably was not long. I was in the house maybe 45 minutes or an hour all together. I don't know why I did it. I was drunk. I know I had to be drunk. That time in the morning I had to be just coming back from the Orential [sic] Lounge. I came by myself. I had been at the bar with Joe and Alex. They left the bar about 1:30 or 2:00. I know I stayed until closing, 3:00. I walked from the bar to the house. The Orential [sic] Lounge on Abercorn Street. I shoot pool all the time. It takes me about five to seven minutes to get to my house walking. I never did make it home. I stopped at her house and went upstairs before I went home. I know the witnesses in the bar—waitresses, sorry. I know the waitresses in the bar. I don't dance. I just shoot pool and get high and get drunk. I was drinking that night. I was drinking burbon and coke. I don't remember anything about the plastic bottle.
In the footnotes, we find this insight regarding the confession.
Blakenship did not simply give a narrative account of the evening. His statement was a mixture of his narrative and responses to questions and comments from the interrogating officers. Only his statements were recorded, typed and signed as a confession.
During his trial, Blankenship testified that he did enter the apartment and assault the victim, but did not rape or murder her.
Blankenship testified in his own defense. During the time of his arrest, he worked at the Guerry Lumber Company. He said he was an alcoholic and also took Qualudes, a tranquilizer.
Blankenship knew Bowen; in fact, he had been inside her apartment prior to the night of her death, performing odd jobs such as replacing blown light bulbs. He would frequently talk with her on weekends when he would pass by her apartment and she was sitting on her porch.
Discussing the events of March 1 and 2, Blankenship noted he began drinking soon after he returned home from work. After some time, he went to the Oriental Bar. From 7:30 that evening until the bar closed at 3:00 a.m., Blankenship continued to shoot pool, drink, and ingest Qualudes. After the bar closed, Blankenship headed home alone.
Instead of returning home, however, Blankenship scaled the balcony of Bowen's apartment. Once on the balcony, he knocked on Bowen's door. There was no answer. He kicked in a window and crawled into the apartment. As he made his way through the apartment, Blankenship saw Bowen in a mirror sitting in her chair. Bowen was speaking to someone near the area of her kitchen. Blankenship said he reached out to grab Bowen and she jumped, tripped over a foot stool, and fell to the floor.
Bowen was now bleeding from her head and was unconscious. Blankenship picked her up and moved her into the bedroom. Once he placed her on the bed, he pulled her pajama bottoms partially off her body. He did not remove her pajama top, which Blankenship said already was unbuttoned. He tried to have sex with her, but could not achieve an erection. At this time, Bowen appeared to be regaining consciousness, so Blankenship left the apartment the same way he entered.
Hendrix asked Blankenship whether the pictures of the crime scene matched his recollection of how he left it. He insisted they did not; he testified that, when he left her, her pajamas where still partially on, whereas in the photos she was completely naked. The plastic bottle was also not there when he said he left. In addition, he said her face was not in the same condition it was when he left it, and that she had not been beaten up.
Blankenship also testified as to his confession. He had been drinking before being arrested by the police in his apartment. He said he did speak with the police, and he did sign the statement. He said, however, that he had pointed out several errors in the typed statement to the interrogating officers, who told him to go ahead and sign it despite the errors. The errors he pointed out—including, for example, that instead of "slid[ing] down in the chair" she actually jumped up from the chair—essentially coincided with the story he had told the jury. In general, his testimony was that the story he told the detectives was the same as what he told the jury, and the typed confession was riddled with errors. He denied having intercourse with Bowen or ever hitting her.
I oppose the execution of people who might be factually innocent of the crime for which they are to die. I suspect that to prevent the execution of the factually innocent, we might have to ban the death penalty entirely.

With respect specifically to the execution of Roy Willard Blankenship, I stand mute.