A local business owner and pastor accused of trying to exploit a minor, and his sister, accused of harassing a teacher about the case, were arraigned in Floyd District Court on Wednesday.
A not guilty plea was entered on behalf of Bobby J. Blackburn, 26, of Prestonsburg, who is facing a felony child exploitation charge, and his sister Destiny Conley, 27, of Prestonsburg, entered a not guilty plea to misdemeanor charges she is facing in a related case.
Blackburn turned himself in after the Prestonsburg Police Department issued a notice in May, reporting officials were attempting to locate him to charge him with prohibited use of an electronic communication system to procure a minor to commit a sex act.
Prestonsburg Police Sgt. Ross Shurtleff, who attended the arraignments in Floyd District Court on Wednesday, alleged in court documents that Blackburn asked a minor to “engage in a ‘threesome’ with he and another minor” and allegedly coerced another underage employee to lie to police about the alleged incident.
Conley was arrested on June 1 on charges of menacing, harassment and second-degree disorderly conduct. Shurtleff alleged in those court documents that Conley “entered the victim’s classroom at Prestonsburg Elementary School (on May 31), and in a physically offensive manner, in the presence of 19 school-aged children, pointed at and aggressively approached the victim, telling the victim, ‘I’m telling you face-to-face, you better lay off my brother.’”
The district court file in Blackburn’s case contains affidavits for search warrants seeking evidence from Giovanni’s in Prestonsburg, Elevate Church and an office on East Friend Street for B&J Food Service, Matergy Coal Company and Sunrise Land Development. The search warrants sought electronic devices and related equipment that Blackburn could have used to carry out the alleged crime.
In the affidavits, Shurtleff reported that he saw images of the alleged iMessage conversation.
“The victim started a professional conversation about materials at her place of work that Blackburn administered,” he wrote in the affidavits. “Immediately following, Blackburn sent an iMessage that read ‘Naked,’ followed by messages that he wanted to have a ‘threesome’ with the victim and another minor employee, telling the victim that he would ‘give (her) a side of a (explicative deleted)’ and that (he) (was) naked in his office watching porn and being dirty but would not specify which office he was in, but that he was in Prestonsburg.”
In court on Wednesday, Pikeville Attorney Steve Owens, representing Blackburn, asked for rulings on several motions he has filed in the case, including one in which he asks that Blackburn be taken off of home incarceration.
“The other issue, your honor, is I made a motion … to remove Mr. Blackburn from home incarceration,” Owens said. “There’s really no use for that. It’s a form of punishment at this point. He’s not been found guilty of anything. And this is not like it’s been made out to be in the media, like it’s 10- or 12-year-olds. These are 17-year-old girls, and he has no criminal history, has strong family ties … We move that he be allowed to work, and all of those things, and be taken off home incarceration.”
In his motion, Owens argued that Blackburn is a long-time county resident with “extensive family, community and business ties.” The bond conditions are “sufficient to address any concern, if any, for the protection of the public,” he wrote.
“Home incarceration is a form of punishment and is unnecessary in this case and puts an undo burden on the defendant’s ability to earn a living, meet with his attorney, his doctor and go to church,” Owens wrote.
Assistant County Attorney Tyler Green objected to the bond amendment request in court and in court filings.
“The Commonwealth objects in the most fervent manner possible to the defendant being released from home incarceration,” he wrote in the response. “First, if the allegations … are true, it is clear (he) is a sexual predator and a danger to the community. Home incarceration prevents (Blackburn) from preying on juvenile victims in the community. Second, home incarceration does not restrict (his) ability to meet with his attorney or go to the doctor. Finally, home incarceration is necessary to supervise (Blackburn) and minimize the risk of (him) being a flight risk.”
He alleged that Blackburn “evaded service” of the arrest warrant that was filed against him.
“Home incarceration lessens the risk that the defendant will once again flee from court process or fail to appear for his court dates,” Green wrote.
At the hearing, Owens also mentioned a motion he filed in May, asking the court to release two devices used as cash registers at Giovanni’s, reporting that the devices are not capable of sending or receiving messages, emails or other forms of communications.
Green explained in his written response that district courts have limited jurisdiction and are not permitted to release property to a defendant in a felony case. He told District Judge Eric Hall that the iPads are being reviewed by the Kentucky State Police Electronic Crimes Branch.
Hall said if the Commonwealth finds there’s no evidence on the iPads that have any bearing in the case, then the iPads could be returned, but if not, the motion would be considered on July 1, when Blackburn is scheduled to return for a preliminary hearing.
Owens said he would reach out to the KSP Electronic Crimes Branch officer to see if the iPads can be returned.
“That’ll be fine,” Hall said.
Owens also asked Hall to reach out to the family court judge regarding an order issued requiring Blackburn to have supervised visits with his children.
Hall told him that was not in the district court jurisdiction. Green asked whether the restriction that Blackburn have no contact with any other minor children still stands, and Hall confirmed that.
Earlier this month, Owens filed a subpoena, seeking access to video surveillance footage that was taken inside and outside of Layne’s Ace Hardware in Prestonsburg on the day the alleged crime took place.
Green asked the court to quash that motion, calling it “unreasonable” because the items are not related to the arraignment hearing, and “facially invalid” because it wasn’t issued by a clerk, as required, and lacked proof of service, as required.
Hall scheduled a preliminary hearing to be held on July 1 in Blackburn’s case, reporting pending motions may be considered at that time.
Conley, who was represented in court by attorney Ron Diddle, is scheduled to return to court on Sept. 3 for a pretrial conference. Hall ordered them to remain under the previously-set bonds to follow all conditions of their bonds.