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River Parishes serial killer evidence must undergo new DNA testing, judge rules

Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 5:57 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A federal court judge has ordered multiple Louisiana law enforcement agencies to turn over evidence from the case of River Parishes serial killer Daniel Blank so that evidence can be independently tested for DNA.

However, District Attorney Ricky Babin said Tuesday he is confident that Blank is guilty and does not expect this ruling to change anything related to the high-profile case that dates back nearly 25 years.

Blank initially confessed to the series of home invasions and killings but later claimed his confession was false. His girlfriend at the time was also arrested, accused of driving him to many of the crime scenes. She was never convicted.

The federal ruling notes that DNA evidence from three different crime scenes do not match Blank, including DNA from a baseball bat, cigarette butts, and DNA found under one victim’s fingernails. DNA, short for deoxyribonucleic acid, contains a person’s genetic code and is often used to connect them to or exclude them from various pieces of evidence.

CLICK HERE to read the full ruling and order by the judge.

In 1999, a jury unanimously convicted Daniel Blank of the 1997 murder of 71-year-old Lillian Phillippe of Gonzales, LA. Phillippe was beaten and stabbed to death in the bedroom of her Ascension Parish home.

Authorities say Blank confessed to killing Phillippe and five other people over a two-year period. The other victims included: Victor Rossi, 41, Barbara Bourgeois, 58, Sam Arcuri, 76, Louella Arcuri, 69, and Joan Brock, 55. The killings happened in Gonzales, St. Amant, LaPlace, and Paulina between 1996 and 1997. Prosecutors claimed Blank robbed and killed the victims to fuel his gambling addiction. He was also accused in the attempted murders of Leonce and Joyce Millet.

Blank, who was living in Sorrento at the time of the crimes, was sentenced to death in 1999. In 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court halted his execution one month before it was scheduled to take place.

United States District Court Judge Brian A. Jackson last month ordered the independent testing on multiple pieces of evidence from the various crime scenes, overturning a decision by a lower court. In his ruling, Jackson said that despite the violent nature of the crimes and large amounts of fingerprints, DNA, and other evidence collected from the crime scenes, prosecutors could not produce any forensic evidence connecting Blank to “any of the crime scenes.”

“Instead, the State’s case relied almost exclusively on Petitioner’s (Blank’s) videotaped confession to those crimes, which occurred on November 13, 1997, over the course of a 12-hour interrogation in police custody, without an attorney present,” Jackson wrote in his ruling.

Jackson said that Blank’s defense team was not given the underlying DNA evidence that would have enabled them to conduct independent testing to see if the evidence matched another perpetrator and not Blank. Jackson noted that Blank was convicted solely on his confession and that any evidence that supports his claim of a false confession should be made available to Blank and his defense team.

The judge ordered Louisiana State Police, the Gonzales Police Department, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, and several other agencies to turn over the evidence in their possession. That evidence includes the baseball bat from the Rossi crime scene, fingernail samples from the Arcuri crime scene, and cigarette butts from the Millet scene. He also ordered more than a dozen other pieces of evidence to be turned over including fingerprints, a knife, a broken set of light bulbs, a framed mirror, and a set of pliers.

Babin said all of the agencies have complied with the judge’s request and sent the items to independent labs as ordered by the judge where further DNA testing can occur.

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