JONES COUNTY, Miss. (WDAM) - A Jones County man whose capital murder conviction was overturned received a new prison sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter just days before his retrial was set to begin.
Justin Blakeney’s retrial was scheduled to start Monday in Neshoba County, but the case was closed before it ever reached the courtroom.
In July 2014, a jury found Blakeney guilty of capital murder in the 2010 death of his then-girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter, Victoria Viner. Autopsy results showed the toddler died from blunt force trauma to the head.
After returning the guilty verdict, the jury sentenced Blakeney to death.
The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned Blakeney’s conviction in November 2017, saying evidence from a confidential informant should not have been used during the trial because Blakeney had already been indicted by the time the evidence was presented, and the new evidence was turned over to defense attorneys at the last minute.
District Attorney Tony Buckley said the plea bargain Blakeney agreed to Friday was offered after the defense filed a motion to prevent prosecutors from retrying the case.
Buckley said the state supreme court was not going to allow the prosecution to use key pieces of direct evidence in the retrial, so that turned the trial from a direct evidence case into a circumstantial evidence case. With circumstantial evidence cases, the burden of proof has to be higher than a reasonable doubt.
One critical piece of evidence that would have been barred from the retrial, according to Buckley, was a letter Blakeney allegedly signed in jail saying he killed Victoria to gain membership to the Aryan Nation Brotherhood, a white supremacist group.
Buckley said putting the plea bargain on the table was, “a difficult decision to make.”
According to Buckley, Blakeney admitted to killing Victoria during his plea hearing. Blakeney was sentenced to the maximum of 20 years in prison with 18 years to serve and nine years of time served counting toward that sentence. That means Blakeney will serve nine years behind bars and will be on probation after he is released.