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No new trial for former Hagerstown man convicted in killing of Pa. man

Judge says Azaniah Blankumsee took too much time to amend his petition

September 19, 2012|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • Azaniah Blankumsee is shown in this 2004 file photo.
Herald-Mail file photo

A former Hagerstown man serving a 45-year sentence for his role in the 2004 killing of a Pennsylvania man has been denied a new trial in Washington County Circuit Court, in part because he was late in amending his motion.

Judge John H. McDowell on Tuesday denied the writ of actual innocence filed by Azaniah Blankumsee, who is in prison for second-degree attempted murder and use of a handgun in a crime of violence.

Blankumsee, 34, was convicted of first-degree murder in the March 14, 2004, shooting death of 19-year-old Jonathan Dennis of Waynesboro, Pa., at Washington Gardens apartments in Hagerstown. That conviction was overturned on appeal and he was resentenced on other offenses he was convicted of in his December 2004 trial.

Another man, Tyshawn Jones, 31, of Hagerstown, is serving 70 years for second-degree murder and other offenses in the Dennis killing.

A writ of actual innocence requires the petitioner, Blankumsee, to show there is newly discovered evidence that would “create a substantial or significant possibility” of a different result at trial, under Maryland law.

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The petition resulted in a hearing before McDowell in July that was resumed and concluded on Sept. 10.

One claim involved Joseph Kopera, a Maryland State Police ballistics expert, whose credentials and expert opinion were entered into evidence at Blankumsee’s trial. In 2007, it was revealed that Kopera’s claims to university degrees were false and he committed suicide.

Kopera testified, or examined evidence and prepared reports, in more than 100 cases a year, according to McDowell’s ruling.

While Kopera perjured himself by falfisfying his credentials, that information was available to Blankumsee after it was uncovered and publicized, McDowell wrote. Blankumsee had until early 2008 to amend his petition in time, but did not file it until March 2009, the judge wrote.

On Sept. 10, McDowell heard testimony from Patricia Miller, who testified Blankumsee and her daughter came to her house after the shooting. Her daughter handed over a handgun that Miller hid, but which did not fit the description of two guns police tied to the shooting, she testified.

Miller testified she told that to Deputy State’s Attorney Joseph Michael before Blankumsee’s trial. She signed an affidavit to that effect in 2008, she testified.

“Miller demonstrated that she was simply not believable and that her testimony was at times contradictory as well as bizarre,” McDowell wrote. She testified that she prepared the affidavit, but “the court later discovered that (Blankumsee) composed that affidavit and sent it to Miller for her signature,” he wrote.

Miller also testified on Sept. 10 that she read the affidavit, “but later disclosed that either her ability to read is extremely limited, or that she cannot read at all,” McDowell wrote.

Miller was not a witness in the 2004 trial, but was listed as a possible state witness and the information received from her interview with Michael would have been available to the defense through the discovery process before trial, McDowell wrote.

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