Benjamin criticizes majority in Youngblood dissent

By Steve Korris | Jun 22, 2007


CHARLESTON - Justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals who awarded a new trial to sexual assault suspect Denver Youngblood tried to sanitize him, Justice Brent Benjamin wrote in dissent.

He criticized the majority for deciding that Morgan County jurors should have seen a note that police suppressed.

The majority reversed Youngblood's conviction on sexual assault charges and on indecent exposure, brandishing and wanton endangerment, ruling that all charges were intertwined.

Benjamin found the note inadmissible and immaterial. He wrote that the majority imbued it with significance it did not have.

"Youngblood fails to show that the note would have put the whole case in such a different light as to undermine confidence in the verdict," he wrote, also noting that authorship of the note was not known.

He wrote that the majority would have taken a more sensible approach by ordering Circuit Judge David Sanders to hold a hearing on the note.

"While Youngblood did not testify at trial, a voluntary statement he gave to investigators was introduced without objection," Benjamin wrote. "This statement was devastating to Youngblood in that it established that Youngblood affirmatively lied to investigators ..."

He wrote that there was evidence that Youngblood placed a revolver at the head of a person the Court called Katara, and made her perform oral sex. He wrote that Youngblood later pointed the revolver at his accomplice, Joseph Pitner. He wrote that the revolver was in sight when Youngblood sexually assaulted Katara again.

"The majority opinion attempts to sanitize Youngblood, hide his weapon and provide him with a script to follow for cross examination," Benjamin wrote.

He wrote that Sanders required Youngblood to wear a stun belty during jury selection because he faced a murder charge in another case.

The majority opinion wiped out a 2005 decision affirming his conviction.

Youngblood appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court. He sought to apply its precedent on suppressed evidence, U. S. v. Brady.

Last year, the Justices in Washington told the Justices in Charleston to evaluate the note as evidence under the Brady decision.

"The majority's rush to reverse may perhaps be based, at least in part, on its mistaken belief that the United State Supreme Court's remand was, instead, a reversal," Benjamin wrote. "Rather, it is an order that recognizes that the Brady decision is pertinent in this case.

"It requires the Court to determine whether we believe anything in Brady demands a different result. That is all."

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