The Keith Blankenship second-degree murder trial that started Tuesday in Blaine County 5th District Court is the fifth trial to be held in a Blaine County murder case in the last 25 years.
The other four involved Sarah Johnson in 2005, David Santistevan in 2004, Michelle Baldwin in 1999 and Mitchel Odiaga in 1991.
The Johnson trial, the most recent of the four, was actually moved to Boise because of extensive pre-trial publicity in the Wood River and Magic valleys. In Boise, a jury found Johnson guilty in March of 2005 of two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of her parents, Alan and Diane Johnson, at the couple’s home in Bellevue in September of 2003.
Johnson was subsequently sentenced to two life prison terms without the possibility of parole, and she continues to be an inmate at the Idaho Department of Correction women’s prison in Pocatello. She has continued to maintain her innocence, and her latest appeal for a new trial is currently pending before the Idaho Supreme Court.
Santistevan was tried and convicted in Blaine County in December of 2004 of two counts of attempted second-degree murder for shooting two teenage boys, John Marshall Hooten and Tyrel Peak, with a 9mm handgun on March 29, 2004, in the alley behind the Silver Dollar Saloon in Bellevue. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Santistevan claimed that he shot the boys because they were threatening him. Previous attempts for acquittal or for a new trial have been unsuccessful for Santistevan, who remains an Idaho Department of Correction prison inmate and is not eligible for parole until 2026.
The 1999 murder trial was a so-called “shaking baby” case involving Michelle Baldwin, who was charged with first-degree murder in the death of her 20-month-old son Anthony Northrup on Jan. 1, 1997 in Hailey.
Baldwin was initially tried in November of 1998 in Hailey but the trial resulted in a “hung jury.” The trial was then held starting in April of 1999 in Minidoka County, where a jury found Baldwin not guilty. Testimony in the case from a radiologist showed that a brain injury the infant suffered may have been the result of a stroke that occurred a week prior to the child being cared for by Baldwin.
One of the more notorious cases involved Odiaga, a Boise man, who was convicted by a Blaine County jury of two counts of second-degree murder, one count of attempted second-degree murder and one count of aggravated assault for going on a shooting rampage in Ketchum and killing two men and wounding a third.
Dead were Bruce Tate Shafer, a 23-year-old Burley man, and Gerald “Shenandoah” Wright, a 46-year-old longtime Ketchum resident. Injured by flying glass as a bullet entered his vehicle was Jerry Johnson, a 40-year-old Ketchum resident.
Odiaga had no prior acquaintance with the victims and told police that he shot the men because “voices” told him to do it.
He was initially sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but that sentence was changed on appeal in 1994 to a 24-year-to-life sentence with the possibility of parole. Odiaga was denied parole in 2013 by the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole and was informed then that he would have to spend an additional 15 years in prison before being eligible for parole again.
Odiaga continues to be incarcerated at the Idaho Department of Correction Idaho Maximum Security Institution in Boise.