The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 1, 2013

Judge allows severance of women’s sexual assault cases

By Jeff Lehr
news@joplinglobe.com

JOPLIN, Mo. — A judge has ruled that one of three women’s sexual assault cases against a Joplin man should be tried separately from the others.

Ross Rhoades, attorney for Jacob T. Blackburn, 22, recently filed motions for severance of the counts Blackburn is facing in Jasper County Circuit Court. Rhoades wanted his client tried separately on each of two counts of forcible rape and one count of forcible sodomy since they involve three victims with varying times, locations and circumstances of the offenses.

Rhoades also filed a motion to dismiss all three counts because of improper joinder.

Circuit Judge David Dally overruled the motion to dismiss. But the judge granted severance of the count of forcible sodomy from the other two counts.

The two counts of forcible rape involve women who have accused Blackburn of sexually assaulting them in 2008 inside vehicles in parking lots at Joplin High School and the Wal-Mart store on West Seventh Street. The forcible sodomy charge involves a woman who alleges Blackburn assaulted her in his home in November 2011.

The defense motion argued that the Jasper County prosecutor’s office improperly joined the counts in a single case and that Blackburn would suffer substantial prejudice if the offenses are not tried separately. While U.S. Supreme Court and state court rules allow joinder of offenses of “same or similar character,” the allegations against Blackburn do not exhibit the “similar tactics or circumstances” that the rules require, the motion argued.

The defense argued that the offenses are remote in terms of time and locations. The two alleged rapes took place seven months apart and the third allegation arose three years later. The motion also points to differences in the relationships of the women to Blackburn.

The first alleged victim was a schoolmate who sneaked outside with him to have a cigarette, and the second was an acquaintance who agreed to meet him at the Wal-Mart store. The third alleged victim “had a prior romantic and sexual relationship” with the defendant, the defense motion states.

Rhoades argued that the differences in relationship alone create a situation where the defendant might have “a serious and substantial reason for testifying” about his relationship with the woman he’d dated while wishing to remain silent in the other two cases.

In a responding brief, Assistant Prosecutor Theresa Kenney argued that Blackburn used similar tactics in the assaults of all three women.

She wrote that he chose women of about the same age and befriended them before using various pretexts to maneuver them into “locations under his dominion and control.”

Then, in all three instances, “he refused to take no for an answer when his sexual advances were rebuffed.”

Kenney further argued that the defense failed to make a “particularized showing of substantial prejudice” resulting from the joining of the three cases together. A court rule requires the existence of a bias or discrimination against a party to justify severance of offenses of “the same or similar character.”

Unanswered

Two of the alleged victims of Jacob Blackburn reported being assaulted more than four years ago, but charges were not submitted to the Jasper County prosecutor’s office until after a third victim came forward more than a year ago.

The Globe has been unable to learn why Joplin police did not seek charges against Blackburn in 2008, since those cases remain active and the police reports are not yet open records.