ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — To hear even a sanitized version of what happened to two toddlers in the custody of Michael D. Blackburn is to be left breathless, sucker-punched by horror.
It is enough to know that his physical acts, the filming of those acts and the sharing of the many, many images of those acts led prosecutors on Monday to ask a federal judge to sentence the 30-year-old Blackburn, who has no prior criminal record, to 120 years – years – in prison.
It is enough to know that the boy and girl, once discovered and taken away from an apartment complex on Wyoming NE in Albuquerque in December 2013, were essentially feral children with perhaps 15 words each, who couldn’t talk, didn’t know how to use utensils to eat and couldn’t use a toilet.
It is enough to know that a doctor has said the girl may never be able to have children because of the injuries inflicted on her before she was even 3 years old.
It is enough to know that, by the time the Homeland Security agent, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s officer and others involved in investigating cyber crimes knocked on the apartment door, the images of the children had reached overseas, which is how the first steps of the probe began.
Blackburn and two other adults had been living at the residence and Blackburn often was caretaker of the two children, who ran around the home nude and were sometimes heard during “nap times” crying and saying “no.” The parents of the children left them in his care for long periods of time.
But Blackburn himself was the victim of horrible abuse, as his attorney explained during the sentencing hearing and in a written filing. His mother, who was using cocaine and marijuana when he was born, was physically abusive toward him and one of her boyfriends sexually abused Blackburn, who was abandoned by his mother when he was 5. The aunt and uncle with whom he was left were perhaps worse, his lawyer said. The aunt twice tried to drown him, set fire to his arm, made him watch pornography and sexually abused him, according to the defense.
By the time he was 13, the state removed him from the home and he lived in residential treatment facilities, group homes and foster care in Tennessee. He tried suicide – once by taking rat poison – and was diagnosed with various mental illnesses and prescribed medications. At 18, Blackburn was released when there was no place to house him and he had virtually no skills
Blackburn, who pleaded guilty to the five-count indictment in March, told U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson that he realizes that his crimes were “horrific,” and said that, through religion, he has forgiven his mother and others, and hopes to continue changing “the evil within me.”
There are legal questions for the judge to address before the final sentence – life or less-than-life – including whether it’s appropriate to impose a life sentence for a crime that does not have life as its maximum statutory punishment.
Johnson said he would address those issues, argued orally at the hearing, in written opinions and call the parties back for final sentencing.