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Was it a case of a heartbroken husband killing himself because he hadn’t been able to stop his disturbed wife from committing suicide herself months earlier?
Or did a philandering and unbalanced guy stab his wife in a fit of rage after a night of drinking and fighting and then hang himself later? Questions are swirling around the suicide of John Blackburn, who took his life Tuesday in the Kearns home he had shared with his wife, Carol Jean Blackburn.
Blackburn, 35, was charged with his wife’s Dec. 20 stabbing death and was free on $50,000 bail.
Loni DeLand, Blackburn’s attorney, said he’s convinced Blackburn ended it all because he couldn’t face his despair over losing his wife when she killed herself.
“I’m certain that he did not kill her,” DeLand said. “He left three suicide notes, one written to her. In that, he expressed that he was angry with her for taking her own life but expressed the guilt he felt for not hearing the cries for help. He expressed how much he loved her and wanted to be with her, and the only way to be with her was to take his own life.”
But Shirley Davis, Carol Blackburn’s mother, has no question in her mind that her son-in-law is directly responsible for her daughter’s death.
“I don’t think he meant to kill her. I think things just got out of hand. I think it was a rage thing,” Davis said. “I can forgive what he’s done because I know he wasn’t himself. But I would want to know why he killed her. Why didn’t he just divorce her?”
The Blackburns, who met in a bar 10 years ago, had many happy years together, Davis said. But in July, everything seemed to change.
John Blackburn, a commercial painter, drank a lot and had an affair, Davis said. The couple fought more frequently. A distraught Carol Blackburn, who had quit drinking, developed anorexia and began seeing a psychiatrist. She moved in and out of Davis’ home, sometimes going back to her husband.
In September, John Blackburn filed for divorce, Davis said. Carol Blackburn also filed for divorce, but then the couple decided to reconcile.
“I tried to get her to leave him, but she loved him and she wanted to make it work,” Davis said. “I had some hopes that it would.”
The couple had been living together again for about three weeks when Carol Blackburn was killed, Davis said. She said she thought the couple had gone to a Christmas party that night.
DeLand said the couple fought the night Carol Blackburn died, and the circumstances of the evening haunted Blackburn.
“She was trying to have a romantic evening, and he wasn’t hearing it,” DeLand said. “Compounding that was the fact that her blood alcohol level was 0.34,” which is more than four times the legal limit for driving a car in Utah.
DeLand said he had been worried about John Blackburn’s state of mind for some time and had insisted he see a psychiatrist.
“Quite frankly, we wondered if he would wait until the trial was over, get his name exonerated and then kill himself. He desperately wanted to clear his name, especially for his son (a 15-year-old from a previous marriage), but he was so depressed, and he got worse and worse,” DeLand said.
The doctor who had prescribed antidepressant medication for Blackburn spoke to DeLand about his fears for Blackburn. “The doctor last week was considering a commitment,” DeLand said.
“I don’t know that we talked about medical terms, but the doctor told me he was clearly depressed and was drinking heavily,” DeLand said. Blackburn had been warned about the dangers of mixing antidepressants with alcohol, but “we found out he wasn’t taking the meds.”
Blackburn had claimed his wife stabbed herself to death with a steak knife. But he was charged with murder, a first-degree felony, after Utah medical examiner Todd Grey said the deep wound to the woman’s heart must have been inflicted by someone else. Prosecutors and Salt Lake County sheriff’s detectives also said Carol Blackburn’s hands showed wounds that indicated self-defense.
But DeLand said Carol Blackburn had suicidal tendencies and had been treated at Pioneer Valley Hospital. “We intended using that in evidence at the trial to do a psychological autopsy,” DeLand said.
Carol Blackburn’s mother rejects the notion that her daughter would kill herself. Both a psychiatrist and a counselor who had seen Carol Blackburn told Davis her daughter was not suicidal.
John Blackburn’s suicide only adds to Davis’ pain.
“He was a good guy,” she said. “This has been like something out of a horror story. It’s like I’m caught in a dream and I can’t get out.”
Davis learned of John Blackburn’s death when his parents called at midnight on Tuesday. Just hours before she and his parents had gone together to pick out a headstone for Carol Blackburn’s grave.
“I was really shocked. I really do think he wasn’t able to face what he had done. Maybe he was coming back to the person he had been,” she said. “I hurt for his parents very bad. I know what they are going through.”