Blindfolded, battered and terrified, the young woman thought she was going to die.
She had been beaten and tied up in Palo Alto, then driven in her own car to a deserted Santa Clara schoolyard where she was beaten again and then raped. The man responsible had his hands around her neck. But the brutal attack ended as suddenly as it began. The man abruptly removed his hands and began running away. The woman, whose dress had been torn off during the attack, ran in the opposite direction and flagged down a passer-by, who called 911.
The frightening story is detailed in a court document released Friday as the suspect in the case, 36-year-old Lionel Blanks of Santa Clara was arraigned in court. Blanks is facing numerous felony charges, including rape, penetration with a foreign object, attempted murder, carjacking, robbery and making terrorist threats. If convicted of all charges, Blanks could receive a life sentence, according to prosecutors.
Blanks said nothing during a brief court appearance in San Jose. He is scheduled to return June 3 to enter a plea. Judge Ronald Lisk denied bail for him. A half-dozen of Blanks’ family and friends attended the hearing. “This is not in his character,” said GeeGee Franklin, the mother of Blanks’ daughter, afterward. “I don’t know what went on; this is not him. He’s a very good person.”
Outside the courtroom, a woman who said she was Blanks’ mother was in tears, shouting “they beat my son.” New details emerged Friday about the incident described as “a very violent crime” by Palo Alto police Lt. Sandra Brown. Police linked Blanks to the crime through DNA evidence which was run through CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), a national database with samples from 1.2 million people.
The kidnap and rape began early Saturday morning, when the woman parked her Mercedes SUV under a bright light on El Camino Real, just north of Serra Street, climbed into the passenger seat and went to sleep, according to a police report. The report did not indicate why the women pulled over.
The woman told police she awoke to feeling cold air and glass pieces on the seat below her. A man grabbed her by the neck, pulled her out of the Mercedes and began punching her in the face. The woman’s head hit the curb as he attacked her, causing her to black out intermittently. She was bound, blindfolded and thrown onto the floor in the back seat.
The attacker jumped into the driver’s seat and drove for about 20 minutes, the woman told police. He asked her if she had any money. He told her not to try anything funny or he would kill her. He told her that he had a weapon. When she didn’t respond to his questions, he responded by punching her or groping her.
At one point the man exited the freeway, stopped the car, got out and wiped down the SUV inside and out with baby wipes she had in her front seat. He got back in the car, drove about five minutes and parked on Saratoga Avenue, in front of Westwood Elementary School, located less than a mile from where Blanks lives with his girlfriend and children.
He then pulled her out of the car and began punching her in the face. He bound her wrists again and dragged her to a portable building in the back of the school. He punched her again, causing her head to hit the ground. He raped her.
It was at that point, according to the police report, the attacker placed his hands around her neck and began squeezing. She told police she thought he was trying to kill her and she was going to die. Then he suddenly let go and ran away.
Police reported the woman suffered several injuries, including a one-inch laceration to the top of her forehead, a black eye, bruising and swelling to her face, severe bruising and swelling to her neck, several cuts and bruising to her elbows, arms, wrists and hands from the glass, pavement and bindings. She had several lacerations resulting in stitches to both knees and bruising to other body parts.
The woman’s purse was also stolen.
The Mercury News learned that Santa Clara police used force in taking Blanks into custody, leaving the rape suspect with a left eye that was swollen shut in his booking mug. The photo supplied to media Thursday by Palo Alto police was an older photo of Blanks. Santa Clara Lt. Phil Cooke said Blanks “physically resisted being taken into custody.”
Cooke said Santa Clara officers spotted him Wednesday afternoon at an apartment complex on North Winchester Boulevard. He saw the officers and took off, hopping fences and running through backyards. They cornered him at a nearby cemetery, but he didn’t surrender.
Blanks tried to kick officers and continued to struggled as they tried to handcuff him. A Taser was used twice and it took six officers to get him into handcuffs, Cooke said.
“He put up a fight with our officers and was injured during the arrest,” Cooke said. “We’re not concerned about the use of force. He was a violent offender and violently resisting.”