A Richland man who threatened to kill his estranged wife and himself while holding her at gunpoint for seven hours in a parking lot has significant brain damage from a prior car crash, his lawyer said Wednesday.
That injury likely was to blame for two separate incidents in one week in June 2012 involving Dennis Wayne Blahak, his attorney Bob Thompson told the court.
Blahak, 44, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Benton County Superior Court to second-degree assault, felony harassment, unlawful imprisonment and first-degree malicious mischief. All of the charges include domestic violence allegations. Blahak entered an Alford plea, saying he wanted to accept the prosecution's offer even though he maintains he didn't commit the crimes.
"I know that if the jury believed the state witness, I could be convicted of more serious charges and I do not want to take that risk," Blahak wrote on his plea statement.
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Sentencing is scheduled Aug. 28.
According to court documents, the Blahaks were arguing when Carol slapped a cigarette out of her husband's mouth. Dennis Blahak reacted by shoving her onto their bed and grabbing her neck with enough force that she had trouble breathing, documents said. He reportedly said he was going to call the police and they would both go to jail so, as Carol Blahak sat on the couch waiting for officers to arrive, Dennis Blahak took a phone book and swung it at her like a bat. His wife, who was hit across the cheek, then left the house.
Carol Blahak returned to their Duportail Street home the next day to find her husband had destroyed a big-screen TV and taken a knife to a number of items, including his wife's clothes and a mattress, Deputy Prosecutor Megan Whitmire said Wednesday. The damage exceeded $5,000.
Dennis Blahak was arrested, but released when his 72-hour hold expired while prosecutors considered charges. Three days later, Carol Blahak got off work at 12:45 a.m. and got into her car in Kennewick's Safeway parking lot, only to find her husband hiding inside, court documents said.
She had gotten a protection order after his earlier arrest.
Dennis Blahak pointed a gun at her, said it was the only way he could get her to talk, and ordered her to drive to a church parking lot and get into his parked car, documents said. Blahak reportedly smoked prescribed marijuana while yelling at his wife and accusing her of taking everything from him, and threatened to "blow her (expletive) head off."
At some point in the middle of the night, they got back into Carol Blahak's car because she was cold. Dennis Blahak pushed her to drop the protection order and agreed that if he got immediate help for his mental health issues she wouldn't call police, court documents said.
The couple drove to a crisis center but, since it was closed, returned to the church. His wife said that while they were driving around town, Blahak no longer had the pistol pointed at her but continued to hold it, documents said.
Once the mental health facility opened, Blahak drove himself there and she followed. She called 911 after he went inside.
Thompson told the court the couple has since gotten a divorce.
Blahak originally was charged with kidnapping, assault and felony harassment, all with domestic violence allegations and firearm enhancements. He also had charges of assault with domestic violence and malicious mischief.
Whitmire said in court documents that she amended the charges to resolve the case because, if it had gone to trial, Blahak would claim diminished capacity because of his traumatic brain injury and would deny having a gun.
Police found Blahak about seven minutes after his wife called 911 -- and about 500 feet from where she'd last seen him -- and yet officers were unable to find the pistol, Whitmire said.
Blahak's mother was prepared to testify that she spoke with her son and daughter-in-law on the phone during the incident and Carol Blahak never said Dennis had a gun, documents said. His mother also said Carol Blahak did not sound upset or frightened.
Whitmire said it could create some doubt for a jury because Carol Blahak had the opportunity to escape, but instead followed her husband in a separate car to a crisis center.
Evidence would show that Dennis Blahak had the capacity to form the intent to commit the crimes, but prosecution witnesses agree his behavior changed and he became more violent and unpredictable after the car crash.
Whitmire said she will recommend a one-year, 10-month term, which is at the bottom of the standard range. She also wants Blahak to complete domestic violence treatment. The top of the range is two years and five months.
Court documents said Blahak may request an exceptional sentence below the range.
Blahak has been in custody on $500,000 bail since his arrest. Thompson said he should be released pending the sentencing since Blahak's done most of the time. The lawyer said Blahak would be supervised by his parents, who also live in Richland. Whitmire objected. VanderSchoor lowered the bail to $10,000.
Thompson proposed that Blahak wear a GPS bracelet so his whereabouts can be tracked. Blahak must be fitted for a unit within 24 hours of release, said the judge.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; email@example.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer