Andrea “Andi” Blanton, 46, of Ball Ground was given a 20-year sentence, with the first 10 years to be served in prison and the remaining decade on probation, after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the May 2013 death of 77-year-old James Reece.
The sentencing was handed down by Superior Court Judge David Cannon Jr. after an emotional four and a half-hour hearing, as several dozen members of Blanton’s torn family and friends looked on, with most of them turning out to support her.
Blanton, a mother and former Bell South employee, said during hearing that she neglected her stepfather until he died, because she was consumed by methamphetamine and her love for an abusive boyfriend.
“I am so sorry I made those choices, but I can’t change what happened in the past,” Blanton said in a tearful plea to the judge. “I never meant to hurt anybody … I’m not a bad person. I love people. I want to help people.”
Reece was not Blanton’s natural father, although she believed he was until she was 23 years old, and she testified: “He’s always been my daddy.”
Previously charged with murder and accused of strangling Reece, Blanton denied intentionally killing him and pleaded guilty to the
lesser charge, with attorneys on both sides agreeing that a compromise could be made instead of going before a jury. She had also been accused of never reporting her stepfather’s death to authorities, even as he began to decompose.
In court, District Attorney Shannon Wallace said although the state agreed to accept Blanton’s plea, the theory that would have been argued in a trial would have been that she “lost it” while she was feeding her stepfather and he spat up on her.
“The reality is I don’t know there’s a lot of difference,” Wallace said of two options for what killed Reece, strangulation or neglect. “Both of these are horrible ways to die.”
Blanton, who had been her stepfather’s sole caregiver, did not deny failing to report his death to police and attributed that error to her mental state.
“From the day I found my daddy until I was arrested, it was all one day to me,” she said on the stand, before breaking into tears. “All I wanted was my daddy back. All I wanted was to walk through that back door and him call my name one more time. I know it’s not sane; I know it doesn’t sound right, but I kept thinking I’d go back and he’d be OK.”
The vast majority of the family members and friends who attended the hearing were supportive of Blanton, although they appeared to agree she had made mistakes.
“She knows she’s done wrong,” Blanton’s son, Casey Blanton, told the court before the sentence was handed down. “Everybody wants that second chance. I just want my mom … I’m 22 right now. I’ve got an amazing girlfriend. And I want to get married soon. What’s a wedding without Mom?”
Other family members, such as Blanton’s sister, Jennifer Dobson, weren’t willing to accept her actions.
“She is an evil person and should be punished severely for what she has done,” Dobson said on the stand as Casey Blanton stood up from his seat and stormed out of the courtroom. The son said later he left because he couldn’t stand to hear “lies about my momma.”
Casey Blanton and other witnesses testified that the defendant had always been a kind and caring person until her divorce around January 2012 and became consumed by methamphetamine and the boyfriend. Blanton testified that her boyfriend “had me beat down. The only way to get up was to put up with him and take the drugs.”
Since her arrest, though, family members told the court Blanton had reformed and become more like her former self.
“It’s like we got the old Andi back,” said her mother, Brenda Reece, who was married to James Reece from 1969 to 1994. “It’s like night and day.”
Deputies from the Cherokee County Adult Detention Center testified of how kind and cooperative Blanton had been in her last 10 months there. One deputy said other inmates call Blanton “mom” because of her nurturing and comforting nature.
The judge told Blanton after sentencing that he didn’t believe she would be a harm to society as long as she took medication she is prescribed for depression and anxiety and didn’t use methamphetamine. Cannon added he could sympathize with the difficult task she had of taking care of her stepfather.
But “there are consequences for choices,” he said.
The district attorney said after the hearing that some mercy was due to Blanton and there were “no winners in this case.”
“This family has been torn apart by the defendant’s addictions and choices,” said Wallace, who had asked the judge to sentence Blanton to 15 years in prison. “This defendant chose her addiction over her father, and he paid the ultimate price.”
Blanton’s attorney, Scott Poole, who had asked for only five years in prison, said after the hearing that he was pleased his client was able to avoid a murder conviction and a life sentence.
“Thankfully, the sentence she received will allow her to return to her loved ones in a relatively short amount of time and to have a second chance at life,” he said.