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WV Supreme Court rejects appeal from man convicted of holding machete at throat of Wendy's employee during 2011 robbery attempt

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A Mercer County man sentenced to 40 years in prison for holding a machete against the throat of a Wendy's employee during a November 2011 attempted robbery in Bluefield has lost his bid for a new trial.

Byron Blackburn had argued his confession should have been suppressed because it was given in violation of his right to counsel and that his identification by the employee was tainted, but the state Supreme Court noted that the lower court “conducted thorough evidentiary hearings on both the confession and the identification issues and found Blackburn’s assertions to be without merit.”

“Upon review, this Court concludes that the circuit court’s rulings should not be disturbed,” Justice Menis Ketchum wrote. “Accordingly, Blackburn’s conviction of robbery in the first degree and sentence are affirmed.”

Police had said the machete-wielding robber was wearing a bandana across his face with a hat or hood of his sweatshirt partially covering his head when he entered the eatery, jumped over the counter and walked into the kitchen, where he held the machete against an employee's throat and demanded money while two other employees looked on.

The employee who was threatened was able to get away, as were the other two. Police said neither the machete nor the clothing worn by the assailant were found, but video footage was released to media outlets, and several anonymous callers pointed them toward Blackburn though they didn't immediately file charges.

A week later, however, Bluefield police charged Blackburn with domestic terrorism after responding to 911 calls from his residence during which he "threatened to shoot someone if he did not get a cigarette," court records indicated. He later claimed that he made the 911 calls to provoke police into shooting him, the court said.

While he was in custody on the domestic terrorism charge he confessed to trying to rob Wendy's to get money for Christmas, police said. That confession, which was audiotaped, came after he had requested court-appointed counsel on the terrorism charge.

Blackburn had argued that since he'd requested counsel on the terrorism charge, police had no right to question him about the attempted robbery at Wendys. He also suggested he'd been interrogated multiple times, was in pain from arm injuries sustained during his arrest and was depressed, and that police told him if he confessed to the Wendy's attempted robbery they'd “make the domestic terrorism criminal charge disappear.”

The justices pointed out, however, that the lower court had found “clear evidence that he was Mirandized prior to his confession to attempted robbery and that he understood what his rights were.”