State Supreme Court declines to reconsider Travion Blount case

By Gary A. Harki, The Virginian-Pilot – 5/25/2016


Travion Blount, who was originally sentenced to life in prison for a robbery he committed when he was 15, is almost out of options to reduce what is now a 40-year sentence.

His most recent petition to the Virginia Supreme Court asking it to reconsider a previous ruling on his case has been denied.

“Maybe the governor will show mercy before he leaves office,” said Blount’s lawyer, John Coggeshall.

Unless a federal judge or Gov. Terry McAuliffe act, Blount will remain in prison for decades beyond when his two 18-year-old accomplices are done serving their 10- and 13-year sentences.

“Within the judicial system, there’s really not much they can do,” said Steve Emmert, publisher of the website Virginia Appellate News and Analysis.

Blount and the two 18-year-olds robbed a Norfolk house party at gunpoint in 2006. No shots were fired and no one was seriously injured.

While the two 18-year-olds pleaded guilty, Blount refused, insisting he didn’t commit all of the crimes he was charged with. A jury convicted him of 49 of 51 felonies.

Then-Norfolk Circuit Judge Charles Griffith sentenced Blount to six life sentences plus 118 years.

Blount’s case was given new life after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that sentencing juveniles to life without parole for offenses other than homicide is unconstitutional.

Coggeshall petitioned the Norfolk Circuit Court, then the federal court, to overturn Blount’s life sentences.

At the same time, he also petitioned Gov. Bob McDonnell for a conditional pardon.

Unlike commutations, conditional pardons can be rejected if the person whose sentence is under consideration doesn’t like the terms.

In January 2014, with Blount’s federal court petition still pending, McDonnell commuted Blount’s sentence to 40 years. A commutation cannot be appealed.

McDonnell’s action limited Blount’s ability to appeal in federal court – he could no longer use the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in his argument because he no longer had a life sentence.

In July, a federal court questioned whether McDonnell’s commutation was allowed under Virginia’s constitution. It asked the state Supreme Court to clarify whether Blount had received a commutation or a conditional pardon.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 1872 that governors could commute sentences only for capital offenses. The federal court questioned whether the state constitution allows commutations only for death-sentence cases.

The state Supreme Court ruled that Blount got neither a conditional pardon nor a commutation. Instead, it ruled Blount received a partial pardon.

That lets McDonnell’s 40-year sentence stand.

“When it comes to an issue of Virginia law, the state Supreme Court is the court of last resort,” Emmert said. “Even the Supreme Court of the United States would not touch this question.”

Coggeshall is still hopeful that either McAuliffe or a federal court, which could rule the 40-year sentence is cruel and unusual punishment, will intervene.

Coggeshall said he will submit a petition to the governor again later this year.

Blount recently petitioned the state Department of Corrections to be transferred from River North Correctional Center, which is more than five hours from Norfolk and his family, to a closer correctional center so that his family could see him more often.

That request was denied, Coggeshall said.

“This young man needs to catch a break at some point,” he said.

Gary A. Harki, 757-446-2370,