Justin Blakeney listens as the jury foreman announces that they have sentenced him to death. (Photo by Mark Thornton)

Capital murder case sent back to trial

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Supreme Court points at ex-ADA Parrish for ‘prosecutorial misconduct’

A Laurel man who was sentenced to the death penalty for killing his girlfriend’s toddler will get a new trial in Jones County Circuit Court, the state Supreme Court ruled in an order that was handed down on Thursday.

Justin Blakeney, 33, was found guilty of capital murder by a Greene County jury in July 2014 for the death of 2-year-old Victoria Viner. Assistant District Attorney J. Ronald Parrish, who is now in private practice, was the prosecutor. Blakeney’s attorney was Bill LaBarre of the Jackson-based Office of Capital Defense. Judge Billy Joe Landrum, who is no longer on the bench, presided over the case.

The high court ordered that the case be “reversed and remanded” back to the trial court, citing “prosecutorial misconduct,” among other problems that were detailed in a 28-page explanation for the ruling.

The most damning of those was the use of “testimony and evidence from witnesses working as State agents,” according to the unanimous opinion, which was written by Justice Leslie King.

The “state agents” he was referring to were a pair of “jailhouse snitches” who were members of the Aryan Brotherhood. They told Blakeney they would help him get in the powerful prison gang for admitting to killing a “mixed-breed” girl. Victoria’s mother was Hispanic.

District Attorney Tony Buckley said it’s not unusual for death-penalty cases to be reversed. He will be prepared to take it to trial whenever it’s set.

“We will still seek the death penalty again,” he said. “This will give us a chance to tighten up the case for next time.”

Blakeney was indicted and charged with capital murder on the basis of medical evidence, before the snitches came forward, Parrish pointed out.

“They came to the DA’s office saying they had information,” Parrish said. “It would be malpractice not to find out what it is.”

They told Parrish that Blakeney had admitted to killing the girl and he hoped that would help him become part of the Aryan Brotherhood.

“I told them that they were criminals, so their word wasn’t good enough … they had to bring me proof,” Parrish said.

But by doing that, they became “state agents,” according to the high court. That decision could have far-reaching implications in future cases, Parrish said.

Look for more details about that in Tuesday’s edition.