GONZALES — Three months after rejecting a bid to overturn the death penalty conviction of River Parishes serial killer Daniel Blank, the same state district judge ruled Thursday that Blank should be executed March 14.
But Blank’s appellate attorney cast doubt that his client would face the executioner in three months, in part because the state does not have the drugs to conduct lethal injections.
Prosecutors had moved for the execution date in November, arguing that Blank’s appeals had gone up to the state and U.S. supreme courts, and his 1999 first-degree murder conviction in the fatal beating of 72-year-old Lillian Philippe, of Gonzales, was upheld.
“It’s time for Daniel Blank to get justice like the jury said in 1999,” said Chuck Long, who prosecuted Blank’s case.
Judge Jessie LeBlanc, of the 23rd Judicial District Court, on Thursday set Blank’s execution to happen between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. March 14.
Gary Clements, director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana and one of Blank’s appellate attorneys, said the judge’s order is erroneous and premature because Blank has years of state and federal appeals left, and the state can’t conduct lethal injections right now.
“There are no drugs in Louisiana to execute anybody, and Daniel Blank will not be executed in March of this year or conceivably in the foreseeable future,” Clements said.
Louisiana’s lethal injection procedure has come under legal fire from two death-row inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola as questions have been raised nationally about the appropriateness and availability of the drugs used for lethal injections.
U.S. District Judge James J. Brady agreed in June to postpone a trial in that suit for a second time at the urging of state officials because they said it would be a waste of time to move on with the case while “the facts and issues that are involved in this proceeding continue to be in a fluid state.”
The state’s motions do not make clear what “those facts and issues” are, but Clements, who is an attorney in that case too, said the state hasn’t replaced its supply of lethal injection drugs.
Brady’s stay on executions in that case is in place at least until July 11.
But Clements said LeBlanc’s setting of an execution date will still set in motion activity at the state and federal level.
“It is an abuse of the legal system. Can they do this? Yes, but is it a wise thing for them to do this? It’s a waste of taxpayer money,” Clements said.
During a five-day hearing in July in Houma, Clements and other appellate attorneys argued that prosecutors withheld investigative reports that would have challenged the reliability of Blank’s confession to Philippe’s and others’ murders — and to armed robberies — and that his trial attorneys failed to do enough to exclude use of the multiple-crime confession.
Blank gave a 12-hour video-taped confession, but Clements has claimed his client is innocent and that the confession was false and prompted by investigators.
Prosecutors have disputed this, saying Blank gave details only known to the killer, and they have prevailed on appeal.
LeBlanc was unconvinced after the July hearing and, in October, rejected Blank’s appeal.
But Long, an assistant district attorney for the 23rd Judicial District who handled the July hearing, fired back that setting the execution date was appropriate after more than 16 years have passed since Blank’s conviction.
“Now it’s January of 2016, and the sentence the jury rendered in 1999 is now being executed in accordance with the law,” Long said. “There is nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong is the many years the victims have been waiting to have the jury’s sentence executed for the killing of their loved one. That what’s wrong here. That’s the injustice.”
Blank, 53, who is from St. James Parish but lived in Sorrento at the time of the slayings, became the focus of a multiple-agency task force investigating robberies and homicides of mostly well-off, elderly residents of St. James, St. John the Baptist and Ascension parishes.
After the Philippe trial, Blank was convicted in four other slayings and has four life sentences. He was never tried in a sixth slaying tied to him.
Pam LaBorde, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, did not return a message for comment Thursday.