Judge backs death penalty charge in guard’s slaying

first_imgRANCHO CUCAMONGA – A judge again refused to dismiss a potential death penalty charge Thursday against a prison inmate accused of fatally stabbing a guard. Lawyers for Jon Christopher Blaylock argued the count of assault by a life prisoner is unconstitutional because it elevates the otherwise routine crime of assault to a capital offense. Judge Ingrid Uhler disagreed, however, and summarily denied Blaylock’s request to toss the charge during a brief hearing in West Valley Superior Court. “I believe the statute is constitutional,” the judge said. Blaylock is charged with assault by a life prisoner and murder in connection with the Jan. 10, 2005, stabbing of Correctional Officer Manuel Gonzalez. A conviction on either charge could bring him the death penalty. Prosecutors say Blaylock stabbed the 44-year-old Whittier man with a makeshift weapon as the two were on a tier in one of the reception centers at the California Institution for Men in Chino. Blaylock was serving a life prison sentence at the time for the 2002 attempted murder of a police officer in Los Angeles County. California law elevates fatal assaults by inmates serving life prison sentences to capital crimes as a means of deterring violence by inmates who would otherwise have nothing to lose. Blaylock’s lawyers argued California is the only state with such a law in place. They claimed it is unconstitutional, in part, because it seeks to excessively punish an inmate based upon his status as a “lifer.” It seemed going in to Thursday’s hearing that Blaylock’s lawyers had little chance for success. They had already raised the exact same issue in November 2005, and the same judge denied it then. They renewed the request after Blaylock’s preliminary hearing largely to preserve Blaylock’s right to appeal the issue if he is convicted. There was no additional argument in court Thursday, and Uhler issued her ruling with little explanation. Immediately afterward, the judge cleared the courtroom and held a secret hearing with the attorneys that seemed to involve a pair of handwritten letters recently sent by Blaylock to the judge and the California attorney general. It was unclear Thursday what Blaylock said in the letters or why a secret hearing was needed to discuss them. Uhler ordered her copy of the letter sealed. In order to close an otherwise public court hearing, a judge must make specific, on-the-record findings that an open hearing on the issue at-hand would jeopardize a defendant’s fair trial rights and explain why no alternative to a closed hearing is feasible. Uhler made no such findings before ejecting the public from Thursday’s hearing. Blaylock will return to court for a status conference Oct. 19. r_leveque@dailybulletin.com (909) 483-9325160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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