$10M claim filed after rape case dismissal

SANDPOINT — A former Sandpoint man who was facing trial for statutory rape is demanding at least $10 million in damages after his case was dismissed on procedural and technical grounds.

Gary Dean Blankenship Jr. is seeking damages for malicious prosecution, constitutional rights violations, impacts to his business interests and irreparable harm to his reputation.

The tort claim, which serves as a notice of intent to sue, is dated Aug. 20, five days after 1st District Judge Steve Verby declined to allow the state to amend charging language on the fly and granted a defense motion to dismiss the case because the statute of limitations had long since expired.

The Bonner County Commissioner’s Office acknowledged Monday that it had received the claim, although it has yet to be filed in 1st District Court.

Blankenship, 50, was originally charged with engaging in lewd conduct during an eight-year span in the late 1980s and mid-’90s, but Prosecutor Louis Marshall recognized that prosecution was time-barred by the statute of limitations. Marshall amended the complaint, alleging Blankenship raped the girl in 1997, when she between the ages of 15 and 16.

Blankenship, who has been free on a $100,000 surety bond, was ordered to stand trial after the alleged victim testified at a preliminary hearing in May. He pleaded not guilty and an October trial was pending.

Sandpoint attorney Bryce Powell, Blankenship’s defense counsel, moved to dismiss the case last month, contending the statute of limitations still barred Marshall from prosecuting a statutory rape case.

When the Verby heard oral arguments on the defense motion earlier this month, Marshall attempted to nullify the timeliness issue by moving to amend the charge to add an allegation that the rape was forcible.

The defense objected to an amendment at such an advanced stage in the proceedings because it would violate Blankenship’s right to due process. Use of force was not an element of the state’s case at the preliminary hearing and Blankenship has never had the opportunity to contest that claim, Powell argued.

Verby agreed, according to the Aug. 15 written ruling.

“Under the circumstances presented in this case, therefore, it is apparent that such an amendment, taking place after Mr. Blankenship prepared for a statutory rape charge, prejudices his substantial right to due process of law as guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” Verby said in the nine-page ruling.

Marshall and Powell sparred over whether there was sufficient testimony at the prelim to support a charge of forcible rape. Verby concluded in the ruling that there was insufficient evidence to sustain such a charge.

Verby granted the defense’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the window in which to prosecute a statutory rape had shut approximately a decade ago. The case was dismissed without prejudice, which allows the state to prosecute the case anew as a forcible rape.

“We are reviewing all options, including whether or not to re-file charges or appeal the decision,” Marshall said on Friday.

Powell did not respond to a request for comment.

Blankenship, who now lives in Washington state, said in the claim for damages that his prosecution and the ensuing media coverage ruined both his personal and professional life. The ordeal has also been a significant financial and emotional drain, and subjected his family to threats.

Blankenship asserts that the alleged victim fabricated the allegations and Marshall knew as much.

“It appears Mr. Marshall’s callous disregard for the law and rules is motivated by the fact that he is facing re-election, and is attempting to make the prosecution of these kinds of charges his banner in the campaign,” Blankenship said in the claim.

Marshall said Monday he cannot comment on Blankenship’s claim.

Marshall encountered no challengers in the Republican primary, but faces independents Michael Waldrup and Tevis Hull in the Nov. 6 general election.

The claim seeks damages from the county, which prosecuted Blankenship, and the Sandpoint Police Department, which investigated the case.

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