MS Supreme Court reverses Jones County man's murder conviction

MS Supreme Court reverses Jones County man's murder conviction

JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - The Supreme Court of Mississippi reversed the capital murder conviction of a Jones County man accused of killing a toddler.

Justin Barrett Blakeney received a death sentence in 2014 after being found guilty of capital murder in the death of 2-year-old Victoria Viner.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that Blakeney was denied the opportunity to present a complete defense and remanded his case for a new trial.

Viner, the daughter of Blakeney's girlfriend at the time, died of blunt force trauma to the head on Aug. 12, 2010, after being found unresponsive two days prior.

According to court documents, Blakeney told police he was alone with the child while her mother, Lidia Viner, was at work. Blakeney said he was in another room when he heard a loud bang before finding the 2-year-old unresponsive and dialing 911.

Doctors determined that Viner died from blunt force trauma to the head and ruled it a homicide, and a Jones County grand jury indicted Blakeney for capital murder in December 2010. Lidia Viner, who was not a citizen of the U.S., pleaded guilty to felony negligence and was later deported.

While in Jones County custody, a 2013 search of Blakeney's cell and body revealed that he was in possession of Aryan Brotherhood reading material and that he had received tattoos revealing his membership to the white supremacist group.

In addition to this, the prosecution used evidence from two jailhouse informants, both members of the Aryan Brotherhood, to argue that Blakenely had murdered Viner, a "half breed," to gain entry into the gang.

The Supreme Court determined that this evidence was recorded improperly and that the errors violated Blakeney's Sixth Amendment right to counsel because both informants acted as agents of the state in obtaining incriminating evidence against Blakeney.

It was also ruled that the trial court erred in not allowing Blakeney a continuance after the prosecution disclosed witnesses late, with one expert witness being revealed just one week prior to the trial. Because of this, according to the Supreme Court, Blakeney was not given adequate time to prepare for trial.

A new trial date has not been determined.