It took a jury five hours to sentence Ricky Blackwell, Sr. to death on Sunday night — the first death sentence handed down in South Carolina since 2010.
Blackwell, a resident of Chesnee, was convicted last week of kidnapping and murdering an 8-year-old girl in an act of revenge against her father.
Prosecutors said Blackwell was upset that his estranged wife, Angela Davis, was dating the father of Heather Brooke Center at the time.
Spartanburg County investigators say Blackwell invited Davis and Center to his home on June 8, 2009 so the girl could go swimming. When they arrived, Davis said her former husband grabbed Center in a chokehold and shot her four times.
The jury reached its decision a few days after finding Blackwell guilty in just 20 minutes of deliberation. Following four days of sentence hearings, the jury was to decide whether Blackwell should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.
Blackwell’s public defender argued the man suffers from intellectual disability and slipped into depression after his wife left him. The attorney never disagreed that Blackwell was guilty, but brought in an expert witness to say Blackwell had taken a previous IQ test showing a low intellectual capacity.
But 7th Circuit Solicitor Barry Barnette argued Blackwell previously worked as a truck driver and had few indications of mental retardation. “Ricky Lee Blackwell is a coward who acted out of jealously and anger,” Barnette said. “There is no other way to explain his actions. He took the life of an innocent child.”
The last convicted murderer to get the death sentence in South Carolina was in 2010, when an Edgefield County jury handed down the sentence to Steven Barnes for the torture and killing of a 16-year-old boy. However, the South Carolina Supreme Court tossed out that conviction last year. Blackwell’s sentence will also be automatically appealed to the state Supreme Court.
There are currently 45 inmates on death row in South Carolina, according to a state Department of Corrections list.