Testimony began Tuesday, May 15 in Jackson County Common Pleas Court in the rape trial of Oak Hill area resident Shawn Blackburn with both forensic evidence and witness statements expected to be key factors.
The 52-year-old Blackburn of 2422 State Route 233, Oak Hill is charged with one count of rape with a sexual predator specification, two counts of gross sexual imposition, two counts of kidnapping, one count of obstructing justice, and one count of obstructing official business. The charges stem from Blackburn's alleged crimes involving a single female victim which occurred different times in 2015 and 2016.
Angie Canepa of the Ohio Attorney General's Office is representing the state while attorneys Gene Meadows and Justin Skaggs are representing the defense. The trial is scheduled to continue through this week and next week before Judge Christopher J. Regan. The proceedings began Tuesday morning with the attorneys making their opening statements with the state calling its first witness immediately afterward.
In her opening statement, Canepa described the alleged victim as an adult female, now 36 years old, who is severely mentally impaired and functions at the same level as a 6-to-8-month-old baby. Consequently, the law treats her the same as a child who is under the age of consent (13) in regard to sexual conduct. Due to her mental impairment and inability to communicate, the victim will not be testifying in the trial, Canepa advised.
Canepa related that the victim, along with the victim's mother were living with Blackburn when the alleged crimes occurred. She also said there had some "on-and-off" sexual relations between Blackburn and the victim's mother. However, she said it was the mother who called the Jackson County Sheriff's Office on April 3, 2016 after she reportedly saw a naked Blackburn emerge from her daughter's bedroom. The mother also checked her daughter's bedroom and found that she was naked from the waist down and that there was a sexual device owned by the mother in the bed.
As the result of a medical examination with a rape kit, Canepa related there were physical signs of sexual activity and that subsequent forensic analysis determined "there was no doubt" that Blackburn's DNA was on the victim's panties.
Canepa also noted that another male witness, who is also a family member, later came forward and told investigators he had seen Blackburn pulling his hand out of the victim's pants - and this was months prior to the alleged incident in the victim's bedroom.
The kidnapping charges relate to Blackburn, the mother and her daughter leaving their residence at one point during the investigation and not reporting where they were going. They were later found located in Louisa, Kentucky. Meadows would later suggest they were not fleeing, but merely going on vacation and were not away for an unreasonable amount of time.
Complicating the case is that the mother later provided a different explanation to investigators, one in favor of Blackburn, who has insisted all along he did not commit any of the crimes. Both Canepa and defense attorney Meadows admitted they had no idea what the mother would say when she testifies.
When Meadows made his opening statement, he noted that Blackburn had opened up his home to the mother and daughter to provide them a place to live and suggested he was possibly getting them away from "drug-related activity." He also stated that a disclaimer on the DNA evidence does not eliminate any of Blackburn's male relatives. He reminded the jury that the state has "the burden of proof" and must prove each and every element of the charges to win a conviction.
"The one consistent thing is that Shawn says he didn't do this," Meadows concluded. "Listen to the evidence and what is said and what is not said."