HOUMA — A state district judge denied five of more than a dozen pending claims Friday in the post-conviction appeal of River Parishes serial killer Daniel Blank but left the majority undecided after a weeklong hearing where his attorneys questioned the effectiveness of his defense team in a 1999 capital murder trial.
Judge Jessie LeBlanc of the 23rd Judicial District gave both sides a month to file post-hearing briefs, attorneys said Friday. She will rule on the other claims afterward.
Prosecutors called none of their own witnesses after Blank’s attorneys rested early Friday morning at the Terrebonne Parish Courthouse without calling any additional witnesses themselves, attorneys said.
Blank’s attorneys at the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana are trying to overturn his death penalty conviction in the April 1997 slaying of Lillian Philippe, 72, in her home in Ascension Parish. Blank was accused of killing five others and has four life sentences. He never went to trial over the sixth victim.
LeBlanc threw out two claims of ineffective counsel Friday and three more broadly challenging Louisiana’s death penalty. More claims remain.
Assistant District Attorney Chuck Long said he felt he had made the case that the 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office turned over investigative information required by law for Blank’s defense and that Blank had an effective defense considering Blank’s confession to Philippe’s and five others’ murders.
“I feel real confident after my cross-examination of (defense attorney) Glenn Cortello that he did the best he could,” Long said.
On Thursday, Long had Cortello go through discovery records and acknowledge he received reports Cortello’s co-counsel had earlier testified they did not receive.
Gary Clements, post conviction project director, countered that even if Long shows Blank’s lawyers received all the records before the Philippe trial, which Clements contends they didn’t, that raises questions about why the attorneys didn’t do more with the information to question the reliability of Blank’s 12-hour confession.
“This case is just full of huge, huge concerns,” Clements said.
In addition to Blank’s attorneys and a witness who saw one of the victims alive hours after Blank had said he killed him, Clements offered testimony from an expert on the effects of police interrogations and a neuro-psychologist who testified Blank had signs of brain damage that made him highly susceptible to suggestion in stressful situations.
LeBlanc, who had previously thrown out a defense claim on whether the confession was truly voluntary, did not allow either expert’s testimony. Blank’s attorneys offered the testimony for future appeals.
LeBlanc also would not allow testimony from attorney Mark Marino about a July 1998 immunity deal for Blank’s then-girlfriend. The state Supreme Court denied a writ from the post-conviction attorneys Friday.