A state district judge on Tuesday rejected River Parishes serial killer Daniel Blank’s claims of ineffective defense counse and upheld his first-degree murder conviction and death penalty sentence in the 1997 murder of Lillian Philippe, 72, of Gonzales.
Blank’s 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.
Judge Jessie LeBlanc called those claims unconvincing and insufficient.
LeBlanc, of the 23rd Judicial District Court, made that view clear Tuesday in dispatching Blank’s final post-conviction claim.
“Although counsel for Mr. Blank makes one final argument that the cumulative effect of these claims renders Mr. Blank’s conviction and sentence unconstitutional, this court has not found any merit to any of the claims asserted by Mr. Blank,” LeBlanc wrote. “As such, this cumulative effect claim is also without merit.”
LeBlanc presided over a five-day evidentiary hearing in late July at the Terrebonne Parish Courthouse in Houma. The original Philippe trial was held in Houma due to publicity over the mid-1990s murders.
During the hearing, prosecutors argued Blank gave a detailed confession only the killer could have known, a view LeBlanc adopted Tuesday.
Though one of Blank’s defense attorneys testified he had not seen many law enforcements’ investigative reports, the lead attorney testified he had. The attorney, Glenn Cortello, also said he made a strategic decision not to press a further challenge of the confession but focus on other aspects of Blank’s defense after the trial judge rejected earlier bids to exclude the confession.
“The fact that a particular strategy is unsuccessful does not establish ineffective assistance of counsel,” LeBlanc wrote.
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.
Blank was found in November 1997 at his auto shop in Onalaska, Texas, and gave a 12-hour confession.
Philippe was beaten to death in her home April 9, 1997, in a botched burglary. The state Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
Blank was convicted in four other slayings after the Philippe trial and has received four life sentences. He was never tried in a sixth slaying tied to him.
Assistant District Attorney Chuck Long, who prosecuted Blank, said if attorneys with the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana had looked at the court record, they would have seen that prosecutors provided those reports to Blank’s original team.
“It would have simply taken a few minutes to go look in the actual file,” Long said.
Gary Clements, the project director, said he is reviewing the ruling but plans an appeal. He pointed to what he said were flaws in LeBlanc’s ruling, including a fact that the judge said only the killer knew but Clements said the media had reported it before Blank was captured.
“This case is far from over,” he said.