PRINCETON — A jury heard opening arguments and a juvenile’s testimony Thursday in the trial of a Mercer County man facing charges including first-degree sexual abuse and sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian or person in a position of trust with a child.
After jurors were selected, the trial of Robert Daniel Blankenship, 45, of Princeton was started before Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John McGinnis, who represented the state along with Prosecuting Attorney Brian Cochran, presented the state’s opening argument.
The case started Oct. 4, 2019 when Detective Lt. Eric Pugh of the Princeton Police Department was contacted by a local school’s counselor. A female juvenile, who now lives out of state, had told the counselor that Blankenship had been molesting her. She told the counselor and investigators that Blankenship had been touching her “over her clothes and under her clothes” on several occasions.
Attorney Joseph Harvey, who is representing Blankenship with attorney J.J. McPherson, told the jury in the defense’s opening argument that the juvenile had been having problems at school such as getting into fights, being suspended, and fighting about her cellphone and best friends.
“She didn’t like the rules that they had in place,” Harvey stated.
Harvey said that the juvenile had told Pugh about seeing child pornography on Blankenship’s cellphone, but no child porn or anything else illegal was found on the phone after a search warrant was obtained. Harvey also told the jury that during sessions with another counselor, the juvenile was “depressed” as well as “irritable” and “always upset, but not about the allegations involving Blankenship. According to notes from the sessions, she was say that the DHHR had “promised her that she could move in with her best friend and did not follow up and was “upset that her family could not longer afford her cellphone.”
Pugh testified when questioned by McGinnis that he examined an account the juvenile had written for the school counselor. In it, she said that Blankenship had been molesting her for “like two years” and that “the last time it happened he tried to rape me and I am scared he will try to do it again.”
Pugh said that he attended Mercer County Child Protect interviews with the juvenile, who said that Blankenship had touched her several times when he was intoxicated.
Warrants were obtained after the forensic interview. When McGinnis asked if anything illegal had been found on Blankenship’s cellphone, the detective replied, “No, sir.”
McPherson asked Pugh about whether sexual predators usually keep mementos of their past attacks on their cellphones. Pugh replied that this was the case.
“There was no child porn?” McPherson asked.
“No, sir,” Pugh replied.
“In fact, there was nothing illegal there at all?” McPherson said.
“No, sir,” Pugh said.
The juvenile testified Thursday. Often quiet, Judge Swope would allow breaks for her and the jury between questioning by the state and the defense. After one break, the juvenile said that Blankenship started touching her when her mother and siblings were away at the store.
“He just walked up to me and touched me in my chest area,” she said. In other instance, she said that Blankenship told her to take off her clothes and threatened to harm her mother and sister if she did not do so. Once she had disrobed, he would touch her “chest area” and her “private area,” she stated.
“It usually happened when he was drunk,” she told McGinnis.
“How often did he get trunk,” McGinnis asked.
“A lot,” she replied.
In the defense’s cross-examination, Harvey asked the juvenile if she had had trouble in school. She replied that it was for not doing her work.
“Did you get in any fights?” Harvey asked.
“No,” she replied.
The juvenile said that she first told her best friend about being molested and later the guidance counselor, who urged her to write an account because “she was too upset” to talk about it.
In the letter, the juvenile said that she had told her mother, but was not believed, and “did not go into detail” with her about what Blankenship was allegedly doing. The juvenile testified that Blankenship told her that he would deny doing anything if she told her mother.
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org