Circuit Judge Dean Dankelson discounted Blaine Downum's claims of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel Thursday in sentencing the Joplin man to life in prison — plus 60 years of consecutive terms — for sexual abuse of a 10-year-old girl and related offenses.
A jury convicted the 30-year-old defendant in March of first-degree child molestation, first-degree statutory rape, resisting arrest and unlawful possession of a firearm.
The girl testified at trial that she was at location where Downum also was staying in February 2018, when he suddenly woke up and asked her if she wanted to have sex. She told him no. But he touched her inappropriately, pulled her up out of the chair she was sitting in, pushed her down on a bed and raped her, she told the court.
The terms Dankelson meted out at Downum's sentencing hearing in Jasper County Circuit Court were a life sentence for the child molestation conviction, 50 years for statutory rape, seven years for resisting arrest and 10 years for possession of a firearm as a felon. Because the judge had ruled pretrial that Downum is a prior and persistent offender, he faced enhanced punishment ranges on the two less-serious offenses.
State law requires that statutory rape or sodomy sentences run consecutively to sentences for other sex offenses. The judge exercised the discretion of the bench in ordering the sentences for resisting arrest and possession of the firearm to run concurrently with each other but consecutively with the two longer terms.
Downum's mother was called as a witness by the defense to testify at the hearing that she saw Assistant Prosecutor Kimberly Fisher talking to two female jurors in a hallway of the Jasper County Courts Building in Joplin on the first day of her son's trial.
"Why would I lie about something like that?" Nina Gaston commented on direct examination by public defender Craig Lowe. "I don't know Fisher from Adam."
Under cross-examination by Fisher, Gaston acknowledged that she never told a bailiff or anyone else affiliated with the court what she saw until Lowe contacted her about the matter after hearing about it from her son.
Fisher stated she never said anything more than hello to any juror throughout the trial and referred to the defendant's claims of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel as "an act of desperation."
"It's easier to claim the system is corrupt than to admit that you're a rapist," Fisher told the judge.
Downum was not about to admit guilt at his sentencing. He told the judge he was innocent and that the girl was lying because of "some kind of psychological problem."
He claimed he was illegally arrested without a rape kit or sexual assault exam ever having been performed on the girl. He said he kept pushing his first public defender to have the tests conducted after his arrest, but his pleas went unheeded. He said results would have proved his innocence.
The defendant further complained that his public defenders ignored evidence his girlfriend possessed — in the form of text messages, screenshots and motel receipts — that also would have helped call into question the girl's allegations and establish his innocence.
After hearing the defendant's complaints about his attorneys, the judge said he saw no cause for a finding of ineffective assistance of counsel.
At the start of the hearing, Lowe had presented a motion for either an acquittal of Downum or a new trial, arguing that information that surfaced during the trial about a member of the prosecutor's office (other than Fisher) having been spotted greeting a juror she knew in a hallway should have resulted in disqualification of the juror at the least. Lowe also complained that several Joplin police investigators had shown up in the courtroom for closing arguments and that their presence may have influenced the jury.
The judge found that neither of those objections, nor any of several others raised by Lowe, warranted either an acquittal or a new trial. The issue concerning the victim advocate's acquaintance with a juror had been brought to the judge's attention midtrial and he had ruled then that mere acquaintance with a juror — absent any discussion or comment on the case — was not sufficient grounds for a mistrial. The judge pointed out at Thursday's hearing that none of the officers were carrying guns, wearing badges or attired in any manner indicating that they were police, and that there was nothing to suggest that any jurors were influenced by their presence.
A detective testified at Blaine Downum's trial in March that he made several efforts to speak with Downum about his victim's disclosures to her mother and child abuse investigators, including a couple of visits to the restaurant where he worked.
The defendant ran when police finally located him in Leonard Park about two months after the rape of the girl. He had a gun in his possession at the time.