A Dove Creek man was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years in jail followed by a mandatory five years of parole for strangling and killing his girlfriend.
William Blackburn Jr., 46, was charged with second-degree murder as an act of domestic violence for the death of 61-year-old Cindy Johnson in the late hours of Jan. 7, 2015.
Blackburn accepted a plea, and he will receive credit for 664 days of time served.
Blackburn said in a statement he went home, had dinner and drank “a couple beers” that evening. He and Johnson argued over money, at which point Blackburn placed his hands around Johnson’s neck and “squeezed her.”
Blackburn told the court that Johnson slumped back on the couch, and he did not see her move after that. According to an arrest affidavit, Blackburn contacted the Dolores County Sheriff’s Office when he came home from work around 6 p.m. Jan. 8 and found Johnson had not moved. It was suspected that Johnson might have died of a drug overdose, but in a autopsy performed a week after her death, forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Kurtzman recognized signs of strangulation.
Will Furse, 22nd Judicial district attorney, cited six DUIs Blackburn has received since 1998 and said alcohol likely was a contributing factor in Johnson’s death, though the defendant denied it.
Blackburn was to be tried in Dolores County last year, but 22nd Judicial District Judge Todd Plewe declared a mistrial after deciding a fair and impartial jury could not be seated in the defendant’s home county.
While the defendant kept his eyes cast down, defense attorney Justin Bogan read to the court the signed statement of Blackburn’s account of the incident. It did not provide the Johnson family specific details of events surrounding the woman’s death, which was a stipulation of the plea agreement and a disappointment to the family.
Johnson’s brother, Dan Johnson, read to the court a letter written by his mother, 87-year-old Ramona Johnson, who did not attend the sentencing. Ramona Johnson described her daughter in the letter as a person who loved to ride horses with her father and was her mother’s “personal EMT.”
“I want people to know Cindy was a real person, not just a name on a report,” the letter read. “Why? Why? Why? A murdered child is agony. I want her back.”
District Court Judge William Herringer ruled that Blackburn’s defense met requirements from a legal standpoint, but his account left a “void” that denies the victim’s family a sense of closure.
“I remain dissatisfied because I feel the family didn’t get what they had good reason to expect. The problem for this family is they don’t know what happened. I don’t know what happened between you and Ms. Johnson,” Herringer said to Blackburn. “My intuition tells me you probably know more than you told us. If you’re really sorry, one thing you could do is provide a better explanation to the Johnson family.”