Blank’s trial location up to Snowdy
By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / November 11, 1998
EDGARD – Daniel Joseph Blank will hear by Nov. 17 whether his first-degree murder trial will be conducted in St. John the Baptist Parish.Judge J. Sterling Snowdy of the 40th Judicial District held the second halfof a change of venue hearing Monday. At that two-hour hearing, sheriffsfrom three parishes testified as to the extent of their involvement in releasing information to the public.
Blank’s attorney, Glenn Cortello of Alexandria, said he’d prefer the trial be held in Lake Charles so as not to taint potential jurors with pretrial publicity.
In St. John Parish Blank is charged with the murders of Sam and LouellaArcuri and Joan Brock in May 1997. He also awaits trial for murders in St.James and Ascension parishes.
On Monday, Cortello quizzed Sheriff Wayne L. Jones (St. John), SheriffWilly Martin Jr. (St. James) and Sheriff Jeff Wiley (Ascension) as to theimpact of publicity in their handling of the Blank case.
Appearing for the prosecution were Assistant District Attorneys George Ann Graugnard and Charles Lorio. Graugnard consistently objected toMartin and especially Wiley’s testimony, insisting whatever they did and said about the case in their parishes was irrelevant to the case before Snowdy in St. John Parish.Cortello insisted, and the judge agreed, that the sheriffs acted in a cooperative effort in the investigation which resulted in Blank’s arrest.
“To preclude them out of hand would be in error,” Snowdy said in permitting the testimony of Wiley and Martin.
Jones said part of his job was to give frequent updates and provide the public with information about the investigation’s progress.
He acknowledged, as did the other sheriffs, that this investigation was likely the “highest-profile case” of his career.
“St. James is a small parish,” Martin testified at his turn. “Any timethere’s a homicide, it’s a big deal.”Wiley noted, in recalling the press conference announcing Blank’s arrest, he said the task force had a “rock-solid case.””When I said it, I meant it. I make no apologies for it,” Wiley declared.Cortello commented as to the sheriffs’ testimony, “They’re all honorable men and they testified truthfully.” He added he got “exactly what wewanted” in their testimony.
Meanwhile, Blank attended the hearing, sitting mutely, wearing a red, Western-style shirt and jeans along with his shackles.
Two weeks ago, four panels of 14 people were questioned as to how much they had read in newspapers, seen on television or discussed with other people the murders of Brock and the Arcuris.
Cortello claimed that 80 percent of those questioned had already made up their minds about Blank’s guilt or innocence and could not put their preconceived notions about the case out of their minds.
Some jurors were outspoken about their beliefs in the case but illustrated the inter-connectiveness of the community. One was a childhoodacquaintance of Blank. Another was a friend of the Brocks. Still anotherwas a friend of the Arcuris, all from the first panel alone.
Cortello said he also plans to argue to have Blank’s case removed from St.
James and Ascension parishes. He also insists that Blank did not committhe crimes, that he is illiterate and had a problem understanding his legal rights.
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