More prison time for Ralph Blakely, figure in key sentencing case

EPHRATA, Grant County — Ralph Howard Blakely, II whose appeal in a kidnapping case led to a major Supreme Court ruling on sentencing procedures, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for murder solicitation.

Blakely, 69, was sentenced Tuesday in Grant County Superior Court after again insisting he was innocent and asserting that "a malicious scam" resulted in his conviction on charges that he plotted from prison to have his former wife and daughter killed.

Prosecutor John D. Knodell III told Judge Evan E. Sperline that Blakely, whose criminal records dates to 1954, was a danger to society.

"I just don't think there is a possibility for rehabilitation, particularly at this stage of his life," Knodell said.

Defense lawyer Robert R. Cossey of Spokane said Blakely, formerly a wealthy rancher in Three Forks, Mont., would appeal.

Blakely is in declining health, and "even the minimum range is going to be a life sentence," Cossey added.

On June 23 the Supreme Court overturned Blakely's 71/2-year prison term, about three years more than the maximum in the state's standard range, for assaulting his son, kidnapping his wife, Yolanda Blakely, at knifepoint in an orchard near Royal City and taking her in a coffin-like box to Montana in 1998.

In a decision that later was cited in a parallel ruling on federal sentencing, the high court held that judges could impose an extra-long sentence only if a jury first decides that extra prison time is warranted.

Now divorced, Blakely was convicted earlier this month of two counts of criminal solicitation of first-degree murder involving Yolanda Blakely, now 49, and daughter Lorene Blakely.

Robbie Juarez, a fellow inmate at the state's Airway Heights Corrections Center west of Spokane, testified that Blakely offered in 2003 to pay him $40,000 each to kill the two women.

Sperline sentenced Blakely to consecutive prison terms of 20 years on one count and 15 years on the other, plus fines and court costs totaling $21,000. Cossey said he didn't know how much money was in Blakely's trust accounts.

The case was filed in July after Juarez, who had been released from prison and was facing a burglary charge, went to sheriff's Detective David Matney, who helped him write a series of letters to Blakely at the prison. Blakely's responses revealed that he knew where his ex-wife and daughter were living.

Juarez testified that in exchange for his cooperation, the burglary charge was reduced to criminal trespassing. He also testified that he had no intention of harming the two women and only wanted to get some money from Blakely.