SNOW HILL – After four days of testimony in a high-profile murder case dating back to 2004, moved from Cambridge after an appeals court overturned an earlier conviction, a Worcester County jury deliberated for six hours last Friday before finding the defendant guilty of first-degree murder.
The trial of Richard Lavonte Blanks, 42, of Cambridge, began in earnest last Tuesday with last-minute motions and jury selection. In 2006, a Dorchester County jury found Blanks guilty of first-degree murder in the strangulation death of Tyshika Askins in June 2004, but Blanks successfully appealed the conviction on the grounds the lower court erred in allowing a prosecutor’s line of questioning that invaded his attorney-client privilege.
Last November, the state’s Court of Special Appeals upheld the appeal and overturned the earlier conviction, remanding the case back to the Circuit Court level for a new trial. Because of the high-profile nature of the case and the improbability of a successful second conviction in Dorchester, Blanks’ case was transferred to Worcester County for a new trial.
Testimony began last Tuesday and continued for three days before the Worcester County jurors were dismissed around 1:40 p.m. last Thursday. They were instructed to return at 9 a.m. on Friday when the trial would resume with closing arguments. After closing arguments and jury instructions, the jury retired to deliberate shortly before 11 a.m. last Friday. They returned six hours later, at just before 5 p.m., with a guilty verdict on the first-degree murder charge.
Judge Thomas C. Groton then ordered a pre-sentence investigation, which is standard procedure in capital cases. The first time around in Cambridge in 2006, Blanks was sentenced to life in prison, a sentence likely to be handed down in his latest conviction in Worcester County.
According to the facts of the case, Askins was found dead in her Cambridge home on June 7, 2004, the victim of a beating and strangulation. The father of the victim’s 2-year-old son discovered the body, but he was cleared as a suspect when his DNA did not match evidence collected.
The investigation then focused on Blanks, who was dating the victim’s friend at the time and later admitted being at the residence on the day of the murder. Detectives collected DNA evidence from under the victim’s fingernails, suggesting the victim had put up a fight. Detectives also collected fingerprints from an orange juice container left open on the kitchen counter in the victim’s home,
When Blanks’ fingerprints were entered in a national database, detectives were able to match them with the fingerprints on the orange juice container, placing him at the crime scene around the time of the murder.