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Conviction upheld in Va. trooper's death

The Supreme Court of Virginia upheld a Caroline County woman's conviction in the shooting death of her state police officer husband Thursday, dismissing her argument that it should be overturned because the prosecutor made prejudicial statements.

Donna Blanton, 45, is serving a life term for the 2003 slaying of Virginia State Police 1st Sgt. Taylor Blanton, her husband of six months.

Taylor Blanton, a 26-year state police veteran, was shot four times with his own .380-caliber pistol as he lay in bed. Donna Blanton claimed an unknown intruder shot her husband.

Prosecutors alleged that Donna Blanton was drowning in debt, with unpaid credit cards, payday loans and gambling losses, and that she argued with her husband about money days before the shooting.

“While every murder is a tragedy, the murder of a state police officer who daily put his life on the line for others is especially tragic,” Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said. “I am pleased with this decision and that justice will be served.”

Blanton was first convicted in 2005 but was granted a new trial when the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled that prosecutors improperly rejected five female potential jurors because of their gender. Blanton was convicted again at a second trial in which the defense offered scant evidence and no witnesses.

During closing arguments in that trial, prosecutor Tony Spencer told the jury that the defense didn't present evidence of Blanton's innocence because there was none. David Hargett, Blanton's attorney, argued to the Virginia Supreme Court in June that Spencer's comment violated the fundamental principle that a defendant is not required to produce evidence of innocence.

The court ruled that because the trial attorney didn't move for a mistrial or for a cautionary instruction from the judge, Blanton's attorneys couldn't bring up the issue on appeal.

Hargett said he understands the ruling but called it a “tricky procedural issue,” especially because the trial attorney objected but was overruled.

Hargett also objected to a comment Spencer made that Blanton was in jail 10 days after her husband's death. The state had argued that the statement was explaining why Blanton did not profit financially from her husband's death.

The court ruled Thursday that the comment was “clearly not so indelibly prejudiced as to necessitate a new trial.”

“It's an unfortunate situation and an unfortunate case that, quite frankly, in my opinion needed to be tried again to make sure it was a fair trial,” Hargett said.

Hargett said Blanton would consider her options.

-- Associated Press

By Washington Post Editors  | September 17, 2010; 7:52 AM ET
Categories:  From the Courthouse, Homicide, Virginia  
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