Saturday 5 February 2011

Parole board stays execution - DNA testing expected

Allowing time for DNA testing, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles on Friday stayed the execution of a man set to be put to death Wednesday for the rape and murder of a Savannah woman 33 years ago.

The decision is at least a temporary reprieve for Roy Willard Blankenship, who sits on death row for killing a 78-year-old woman who died of heart failure after she was beaten and sexually assaulted.
The board issued a stay through Feb. 17, but indicated it could lift the stay sooner, the board said in a statement released Friday. The board said it will allow the additional time to consider claims made by Blankenship's legal team, and any additional evidence that becomes available.
"I think the board made the appropriate decision so DNA testing will confirm who the real perpetrator in this case was once and for all," Brian Kammer, who represents Blankenship, said. "I am really thrilled."
The parole board held a clemency hearing for Blankenship on Thursday. Early Friday, apparently at the board's urging, a Savannah judge ordered the GBI to assess whether evidence in the case was still suitable for DNA testing. Later in the day, the GBI crime lab determined that it was, Kammer said.
The parole board then issued the stay.
Blankenship was convicted of the March 2, 1978, burglary, rape and murder of Sarah Mims Bowen in her apartment. According to court records, Blankenship confessed to police when he was arrested. Also, footprints at the scene led police to Blankenship's house, where they found shoes matching the footprints outside Bowen's apartment. His fingerprints were also found at the crime scene.
All told, Blankenship was sentenced to death by three separate juries. His first two death sentences -- imposed in 1980 and 1982 -- were overturned on appeal. In 1986, a jury once again sent Blankenship to death row.
Blankenship's lawyers said there is evidence to support Blankenship's trial testimony that, while he was at the apartment that night, another man raped and killed Bowen. Scrapings taken from underneath Bowen's torn fingernails, for example, revealed blood antigens that matched neither Bowen's nor Blankenship's blood type, the lawyers say.

Bill Rankin

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