Kelsie Marie Blankenship, shackled and wearing a striped jail suit, walked into the court of Judge Thomas Harris crying and distraught. She entered a plea of not guilty and Harris set bond at $250,000 cash, surety or 10 percent, and the case was assigned to Judge Marianne Sezon.
Blankenship, 23, of Conneaut, faces two counts of felony murder; one count of felonious assault (second-degree felony); two counts of endangering children (second-degree felony); one count of endangering children (third-degree felony) and one count of domestic violence (first-degree misdemeanor.) She was arrested by Conneaut police last week after a secret indictment was issued Wednesday and she has been in the county jail since Friday.
Blankenship's daughter, Sereniti Jazzlynn-Sky Sutley, died Oct. 7, 2017 from blunt trauma to her head and trunk, according to the Ashtabula County coroner's office. Prosecutors say Sereniti was brutally raped and beaten and she died at a Clark Street apartment.
Blankenship's live-in boyfriend Joshua Gurto, 38, is facing charges of aggravated murder, murder, rape, felonious assault and domestic violence. A death penalty specification associated with the aggravated murder charge was dropped against Gurto as a result of Blankenship's indictment, according to county Prosecutor Nick Iarocci.
Blankenship is represented by public defender Marie Lane, who asked for her bond to be set at $50,000 cash, surety or 10 percent saying that her client has cooperated with police for more than a year. Blankenship called 911 when she found her daughter not breathing, Lane said.
"Despite the grief of the loss of her daughter she has maintained her sobriety throughout that time," Lane said. "This happened right before she graduated from the drug court program."
Lane said if Blankenship were a flight risk, she would already be gone. However, Iarocci said Blankenship never knew she was a person of interest until she was arrested last week.
"She never knew she was subject to being a flight risk," Iarocci said. "Now that she is arrested and charged, we do consider her a flight risk."
As Iarocci spoke Blankenship could be seen crying and mouthing the words "I'm not a flight risk." Shortly afterward she was escorted out of the court room.
Fifteen people were in attendance at the arraignment, most of whom were family of Blankenship, and they declined to comment afterward.
Not all who were in attendance were there to support Blankenship. Malynda Salyers, of Austinburg, said her nephew is believed to be the child's biological father.
"I met her at Conneaut festival," Salyers said. "She came up to us, sat down with us and said she wanted him to meet the baby in case she was his. She never met me before in her life, yet she left that baby with me for 45 minutes unattended. This was about two months before she died."
Salyers said she never met Gurto and she never saw Blankenship or the child again. She said her nephew now feels grief because he feels that if he had been involved sooner in the child's life things might have turned out differently.
"This whole thing makes me sick," she said.
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