The trial of Yoder Blalock began Wednesday in Anchorage Superior Court nearly three years after he was arrested and accused of pepper-spraying Nathan Tanape, then plunging a bayonet into the man’s torso.
State prosecutors argue Blalock, 37, intended to kill Tanape. The state indicted him for second-degree murder shortly after the October 2011 incident. He also faces a driving under the influence charge for injecting methamphetamine while cruising in his truck before the confrontation.
The defense argues their client feared for his life and only resorted to deadly force after Tanape refused to back down.
Blalock’s trial has been a long time coming. The court tossed the murder charge and a tampering with evidence charge on Blalock’s motion to dismiss about year after his arrest. The state quickly re-filed the former charge, but years of back-and-forth over written petitions delayed the case.
Now, the victim’s family is learning more about how Tanape died, though the parties’ versions of events differ greatly.
Officers found Tanape inside an apartment on East Third Avenue, bleeding from stab wounds and gashes to his head, in the early morning hours of Sunday on Halloween weekend.
Assistant district attorney Christina Sherman said Tanape drank with friends at Polar Bar, a nearby downtown watering hole, before the party spilled over into his apartment. Later, one of the friends, Amy Chagluak, accepted a ride from Blalock. He had parked close to the apartment, Sherman said.
Blalock, Chagluak and another man drove around, Sherman said. The unidentified man exited the defendant’s truck at an unknown time. Everything was fine until Chagluak allegedly saw Blalock whip out a needle and inject meth. The drug use made her want to head back to her friends, the prosecutor contended.
According to Sherman’s account, Blalock returned the woman to the apartment willingly enough. Chagluak retreated inside the apartment. Tanape and another friend, Charles Alexie, emerged. They confronted the man, Sherman said.
“You gotta go. There’s going to be a problem,” Sherman said, quoting the victim. According to the charges, a witness told police Blalock responded, “I got something for you.” After getting something from his truck, Blalock returned with his hands behind his back, according to the charges.
Blalock pulled out pepper spray and a bayonet, a kind of short sword. He sprayed Tanape in the face. Then, “he cut and he slashed and he stabbed Mr. Tanape over and over again,” Sherman said.
The death blow was dealt, Sherman said, when the defendant stabbed Tanape between the ribs near his heart. Blood filled Tanape’s lungs. Sherman held the sword before the jury, displaying the piece of evidence tied to cardboard and wrapped in clear plastic.
A little less than an hour after Tanape was reported stabbed, Blalock called 911 to give his breathless account of the fight, according to the charges. He said he was looking for cigarettes to give a girl he'd just met when someone from the apartment approached him. He told the man he didn't want to fight and pretended to call police, prompting the man to back away, according to the charges.
Blalock told the dispatcher he got some Mace and a long knife from his truck before punching the man in the head. He sprayed the Mace at the man for 10 seconds with no effect, so he hit the man over the head with the knife, according to the charging document. Blalock said he was defending himself, the charges say.
Evidence will show nothing warranted the “level of violence Blalock unleashed on (Tanape),” Sherman said.
Office of Public Advocacy defense attorney Claire DeWitte said Blalock wasn’t looking for a fight; he wasn’t trying to challenge anyone.
“He didn’t know he was walking into a hornet’s nest of alcohol-fueled anger when he met Chagluak,” she said.
The defense admits Blalock injected meth while driving around with the girl. Trying to diffuse one of the state’s potential theories -- that the drug made her client react violently -- DeWitte said an expert witness will testify that individuals behave differently under the influence of the illegal substance.
She said Blalock stuck around outside the apartment because he was hopeful Chagluak would still want to join him that night.
Instead, Blalock “stumbled into a storm.” Both Tanape and Alexie were highly intoxicated, DeWitte said. When Tanape realized Blalock was faking the 911 call he threatened Blalock with violence, she said.
Blalock deployed the pepper spray as a deterrent, but the generally disabling weapon had no effect on the more than 250-pound Tanape. Tanape charged through the spray, chased Blalock down the alley and tackled him, she said.
DeWitte displayed a photo of Tanape’s knees for the jury. Deep bruises on the knees indicate he straddled Blalock on the cement after taking him to the ground. Once on the ground, “the situation turned deadly,” the defense attorney said.
Blalock swung the bayonet wildly. The weapons left “superficial injuries” with no indication Blalock attacked with full force, with the exception of the stab between Tanape’s ribs.
“He had every right to defend himself. He did everything he could to stay alive,” DeWitte said.
The trial is set to continue into next week with a long list of witnesses.
Alaska Dispatch News
August 7, 2014