State v. Blankenship

Citation830 S.W.2d 1
Decision Date21 April 1992
Docket NumberNo. 74239,74239
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Donnie L. BLANKENSHIP, Defendant-Appellant. Donnie L. BLANKENSHIP, Movant-Appellant, v. STATE of Missouri, Respondent-Respondent.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri

Henry B. Robertson, St. Louis, for defendant-appellant.

William L. Webster, Atty. Gen., John P. Pollard, Millie Aulbur, Asst. Attys. Gen., Jefferson City, for plaintiff-respondent.


Defendant Donnie Blankenship was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life imprisonment for each of five counts of murder in the second degree, § 565.021, 1 thirty years for one count of robbery in the first degree, § 569.020, fifteen years for receiving stolen property, § 570.080, and ten years for unlawful use of a weapon, § 571.030. All sentences were to be served consecutively. A motion for post-conviction relief under Rule 29.15 was filed but was overruled without hearing. The defendant's appeals in both cases were consolidated. Following opinion 2 by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, this Court granted transfer. Rule 83.03. The judgments are affirmed.


At about 11:00 p.m. on September 4, 1987, two or more gunmen entered the National Supermarket on Natural Bridge Road in the City of St. Louis. Among those working in the store that evening were store manager Harold Meyers, security guard David Spahn, bagger Michael Mahr, office workers Richard Fortson and Rose Brown, stockman Mike Beam, janitor Kenneth Bass, and night crew supervisor Chris Hennicke.

The first gunman encountered by Meyers was a black male wearing gray jeans and a white short-sleeve pullover shirt without a collar. The shirt had buttons on the front and green and red markings on the top of both sleeves. The gunman appeared to be in his mid-twenties, about 5'10"' in height and weighing about one hundred seventy-five pounds. The gunman also wore an earring post. As he entered Meyers' office, the gunman pointed a revolver at Meyers and ordered Meyers to open the safe. Meyers attempted to do so but was unsuccessful. The gunman then threatened to kill Meyers and struck Meyers in the head with the gun, splitting Meyers' head open. Mike Beam then made an unsuccessful attempt to open the safe. The gunman punched Beam in the face. At that point Rose Brown went to the safe and with some effort managed to get the combination to work and opened the safe. Meyers directed Brown to give the gunman a plastic National Supermarket bag. The gunman then placed money from the safe into the bag. The safe contained four or five thousand dollars in one dollar bills. The bills were in ten bundles of one hundred singles and were blocked together so as to form a brick and wrapped in cellophane. Also taken from the safe was Bi-State bus pass number 4300 good for the week beginning September 14, 1987.

At that point the gunman directed those in the office out into the store. There Meyers encountered Spahn and Bass seated on the floor. A second gunman was standing guard over them. The first gunman ordered Meyers, Bass, Brown, Spahn, Beam, Fortson and Mahr to lie down in line on the floor on their stomachs. Apparently one of the gunmen had relieved Spahn of his revolver. As the victims lay on the ground, shots were fired. The shooting stopped briefly. One of the gunmen removed spare bullets that Spahn kept in his shirt pocket. He apparently reloaded the gun and the shooting commenced again. The gunman went down the line of victims, shooting each in the back of the head. One of the guns used to shoot the victims was later identified as Spahn's. Of the seven, only Meyers and Fortson survived.

Even though Meyers had been struck in the head and shot twice, he remained conscious. After the firing ceased the second time, Meyers waited two or three minutes, feigning death. By that time the gunmen had fled the scene. He then got up and went to call the police.

Chris Hennicke and two other employees had been stocking shelves in another part of the store when they heard the first series of shots. Hennicke went to investigate and saw two men, one looking out toward the street and the other bent over the bodies of the victims. Hennicke rejoined the other two employees and the three went into a back room, where they heard the second series of shots fired. They then went through a trap door onto the store roof. From there they yelled to a woman in the street to call police.

At about midnight that night, Philip Harden went to the home of defendant's brother, James Blankenship. There he found defendant alone, drinking and listening to the radio. Defendant appeared nervous. He paced the floor, looking out the windows and door. While there, defendant showed Harden a gun. However, defendant did not say where he obtained it. Harden eventually left.

The following Monday or Tuesday, Harden gave defendant a ride from James Blankenship's house to the house of Leroy Blankenship, another brother of defendant. During the drive defendant ducked down in the seat when a police car was near. When asked what was wrong, defendant replied he had "f___ up, he was involved in a robbery and some people was killed." A few days later defendant loaned Harden $50. The $50 was all in one-dollar bills.

About a week after the robberies and murders, Marvin Jennings brought defendant to Leroy Blankenship's house. Defendant had a pistol and $1,100 in cash. The defendant told Leroy that Marvin Jennings was with defendant when he "robbed [a] dope house." The cash was all in one-dollar bills. Some of the bills were wrapped in stacks of $100 each. There were approximately ten of these stacks. They were wrapped in cellophane in the form of a brick. The bills were in a plastic bag bearing the markings of the National Supermarket. Defendant left the gun and the money at Leroy's house. Leroy later gave the gun to his uncle, Jimmie Kennedy.

In a conversation with defendant's brother, James, defendant related that he and Marvin Jennings had "cleared about $4,500 a piece [sic] from the murder and robbery."

In mid-September of 1987 defendant had the transmission of his car repaired. He paid a down payment of $50 in forty one-dollar bills and either two fives or one ten-dollar bill.

On November 8, 1987, police stopped a 1972 blue Ford Maverick for speeding in St. Louis county. A passenger in the vehicle was defendant's uncle, Jimmie Kennedy. During a search of the vehicle a revolver was found in the trunk. The gun was later identified as that taken from Spahn and used as a murder weapon. Kennedy told police that the previous September he had been given the gun by Leroy Blankenship after making arrangements to do so with defendant. Kennedy also told police that defendant said he wanted the gun back.

Shortly after that, Harden learned that the gun had been found by police. Harden and James Blankenship went looking for defendant. They located defendant at Leroy Blankenship's house. Defendant told Harden he wanted to leave town because the police had found the gun in Jimmie Kennedy's car. That night James Blankenship called his employer, Mary Gray, and told her that his uncle had been caught with "the guard's gun" from the National Supermarket robbery, and defendant needed money the employer had been holding for James.

Police arrested defendant on November 10, 1987. In response to defendant's question as to what he would be charged with, the officers told him the charge would be receiving stolen property. Defendant replied, "All I did was take the guard's gun and give it to my uncle." Defendant had a pierced ear at the time of his arrest. It was also disclosed that Marvin Jennings had worked as a cleaning man at the National Supermarket on Natural Bridge Road during the last week of August, 1987. On this evidence the defendant was found guilty of the five counts of murder and one count each of robbery, receiving stolen property, and unlawful use of a weapon. Other facts will be developed as necessary on each point discussed.


In his first point, defendant claims the trial court's exclusion of the out-of-court statements of Ricky Williams violated defendant's due process rights. Defendant claims that Williams' statements were declarations against penal interests bearing sufficient indicia of reliability to mandate their admission in evidence under Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284, 93 S.Ct. 1038, 35 L.Ed.2d 297 (1973).

At trial defendant called Ricky Williams to the witness stand. Williams claimed his privilege not to testify under the Fifth Amendment. 3 Defendant then offered to prove certain out-of-court statements made by Williams during a videotaped interview with police. 4 According to the offer of proof dictated into the record by defense counsel, Williams gave four interviews to police on the day following the murders. The length of the individual interviews and the time between interviews is not disclosed. Williams' first interview occurred at about noon on the day following the murders. Williams first told police that he had overheard information about the National Supermarket incident on a bus ride. In the second session, at about 3:00 p.m. that same day, police questioned Williams in more detail. Williams then said he knew the identity of the people involved in the National Store robbery. Williams named five people, including himself, but did not name defendant. Williams denied that he went inside the store and denied that he had any idea what the other people involved were going to do. He said he was wearing a security guard 5 uniform, which might have helped others gain access to the store. In a third interview conducted some time that same evening, Williams stated he went inside the store and was present when the shooting began. At that point Williams claims to have run to leave the store. At the close of the third interview, Williams repudiated what he had said before and denied any involvement...

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