SNOW HILL – Testimony began in Circuit Court this week in a high-profile murder case from Cambridge dating back to 2004, which was moved to Worcester last year after the state’s Court of Special Appeals overturned a conviction and life sentence in 2006 and granted the defendant a new trial.
After some pre-trial motions were dispensed with, including issues with victim photographs, DNA evidence and witness testimony, the first-degree murder trial for Richard Lavonte Blanks, 42, of Cambridge, began in earnest in Worcester County Circuit Court on Tuesday. Much of the first morning was spent on jury selection in the change of venue case, with witness testimony getting underway on Tuesday afternoon. The trial, laid in for four days, continued on Wednesday.
In 2006, a Dorchester County jury found Blanks guilty of first-degree murder in the strangulation death of Tyshika Askins in June 2004, but the defendant appealed the conviction on the grounds the lower court erred in allowing prosecutor’s line of questioning that invaded his attorney-client privilege. Last November, the state’s Court of 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 conviction in Dorchester a second time, the case was transferred to Worcester County for a new trial. Concerns about the level of pre-trial publicity precipitated the move.
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 when he went to her residence after she failed to pick up her son as planned, but he was cleared as a suspect when his DNA did not match evidence collected at the crime scene.
At his original trial in Dorchester County in 2006, Blanks testified he was at the victim’s residence on the day of the murder to inquire about the whereabouts of his girlfriend, but left after a brief discussion with the victim. Blanks testified he poured himself a glass of orange juice from a container and left the container on the kitchen counter, taking the glass with him. He could not, however, explain how his DNA got under the victim’s fingernails.
After a six-day trial in Dorchester in 2006, a jury convicted Blanks of first-degree murder and first-degree assault charges and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, the conviction was overturned on appeal.