His lawyer painted a picture of a black father in his early 50s, the sole caretaker of his child with autism, who doesn’t have a computer or read the news, and who came to the Downtown Mall on August 12, 2017, to panhandle for the extra money he needed to buy his son’s medication.
Defense attorney David Baugh said his client, Donald Blakney, never expected to witness the largest gathering of white supremacists in modern history when he went downtown that day. And after being seen as “subhuman,” called a “nigger,” pepper sprayed, and spat on, he got angry—and decided to retaliate.
At a March hearing in Charlottesville General District Court, Eric Mattson, a self-proclaimed Constitutionalist from Arkansas, testified that he was carrying a rolled up American flag when Blakney approached him from behind and beat him over the head with a stick. It broke Mattson’s sunglasses, and caused him to black out for a moment, he said.
And when Mattson, who traveled 16 hours to Charlottesville, went back to his hotel room on August 12, he said he saw footage of Blakney assaulting him on national news.
Almost half a year later, in January, Blakney was charged with malicious wounding. Detective David Stutzman testified in March that when he visited Blakney at his home, Blakney admitted to taking his anger out on the man he associated with the white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The detective said Blakney immediately felt remorse, and asked if Mattson was okay.
In Charlottesville Circuit Court on November 6, Blakney sat solemnly, with one hand gripping his cane and his eyes low.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania cited Blakney’s sincerity as one reason for offering him a plea deal that would downgrade the felony charge to misdemeanor assault, suspend any jail time, and omit any associated fines. He added that a jail sentence would prevent Blakney from taking care of his noncommunicative son. Platania also said the victim had requested Blakney receive no time behind bars.
Platania and Baugh had very frank discussions about how to proceed, how Baugh planned to argue his case if it went to trial, and what the best outcome would be, according to the prosecutor.
Ultimately, Blakney felt he couldn’t risk going to jail if a jury convicted him of malicious wounding, and decided to take the deal, according to his lawyer and spiritual adviser.
It’s a compromise that keeps him home, but one his supporters don’t think is just.
“Mr. Blakney is a man who loves his family, a man who allowed himself to be unjustly treated so that he could be with, and care for, his family,” says Pastor Phil Woodson, of the First United Methodist Church. “He couldn’t fight for justice because justice is not guaranteed, especially for people of color, and he couldn’t risk it…and so justice passed him by.”
Circuit Court Judge Rick Moore has found three white supremacists from out of town guilty of malicious wounding for their actions at the Unite the Right rally, and two are serving six- and eight-year prison sentences. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the judge took time to mull over the plea deal that Baugh and Platania presented to him for the local man.
But Moore eventually approved it—adding that he thought “long and hard,” and also noting the difference in Blakney’s behavior versus the others.
“A lot of people tried to hide or lie,” said Moore. “And he did show remorse.”
Looking at Blakney, he said, “Maybe I’m naive, but I believe what’s been told to me. …I hope this is truly a one-time experience for you.”
Blakney and his family have received death threats since August 12, and were frightened by police who showed up unannounced to investigate the threats, according to the pastor who sat in the gallery in support of the man he calls his friend.
Says Woodson, “It is my hope and prayer that Mr. Blakney and his family will be able to move on from all this, that their fear subsides, and that they never have to go through this again.”