In Syracuse and Onondaga County he will always be known as cop-killer Billy Blake. In 1987, while under arrest and being escorted into court in Dewitt, he grabbed a gun from an Onondaga County Deputy Sheriff and started firing. He killed one of the deputies and injured another. Blake was sentenced to 77 years to life in prison for the murder.
In December, the Yale Law Journal gave him an honorable mention in their annual prison writing contest. On Saturday, the NY Daily News ran a storywith a brief interview with Blake about his essay and its topic–long-term solitary confinement. A brief Google search shows that the site Rap Genius has posted the essay online.
The first Syracuse media site to pick up on this was News Channel 9. Their piece online emphasized the essay and then ran to get a response from the always newsworthy Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick who didn’t disappoint:
It is truly unfortunate that a prestigious university such as Yale Law School would choose to ‘honor’ a sociopathic murderer. While the fact that this genetic mutation is ‘bored’ in prison apparently merits an award from the future barristers at Yale, the People of Onondaga expect that more sensitivity be shown to crime victims and their families. Perhaps the students at Yale can all chip in and send Blake a deck of cards so he can play Solitaire for the next 50 years.
Lost amongst this truly horrific crime, the personalities and the posturing by all parties involved–criminal, DA and news media–is the fact that long-term solitary confinement is a serious and disturbing issue in America.
There are scholarly papers written on the psychological effects of long-term solitary confinement of prisoners. There have been hunger strikes and lawsuits in attempts to change the solitary confinement policies at Pelican Bay state prison in California.
Closer to home, a 2012 article in The Nation entitled “New York’s Black Sites,” reporters Jean Casella and James Ridgeway reported on the extensive use of solitary confinement in New York.
In this article, Casella and Ridgeway also hold out Billy Blake as the exemplar for the problems with long-term solitary confinement:
In the meantime, men like Billy Blake will continue to be used to justify solitary confinement . . . As a cop-killer and an escape risk, Blake is considered a permanent threat to prison safety. For this reason, he is one of the few New York prisoners in “administrative” rather than “disciplinary” segregation—meaning he’s in solitary more or less indefinitely, despite periodic pro forma reviews of his status. He has been in isolation in a series of prisons for close to twenty-five years. He is now 48; since his sentence is seventy-seven years to life, he has no prospect of getting out of prison, and next to none of ever leaving solitary . . . We do not know whether the man we met is too dangerous to be in the general population. We do know that the treatment he is receiving from the state can only be described as torture.