It has been 25 years since the Syracuse area was stunned by the shooting death of Onondaga County Sheriff's Deputy David Clark at the hands of Billy Blake. Blake was 23 at the time. Now 48, he has apologized for the shooting of Clark and fellow deputy Bernie Meleski during an escape attempt at DeWitt Town Court. An apology rejected by friends and family of the deputies.
In an interview with YNN's Bill Carey at the Elmira State Correctional Facility, Blake spoke about the shooting, but also discussed a more distant past, and his hope for the future.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- For thousands of young people facing the challenges of Syracuse's tougher neighborhoods, there are stories of success, stories of rising above.
For others, tough streets lead to tough lives.
And then, there is the story of Billy Blake. Arrested again and again, starting in childhood. Following a path that would eventually lead him to the fatal shooting of Deputy David Clark in February of 1987.
Blake said, “My mother took off when I was seven years old. I actually, which is crazy, I actually thought about killing somebody for the first time at age seven. That’s ridiculous. I actually wanted to kill her boyfriend because he had cut her in front of me. I came close. I actually got a butcher’s knife and stood outside the door and looked in, watching him sleep. But I didn't have the nerve to go in there and do it. And I hated myself. I felt like a coward.”
“I grew up fighting. I grew up on the south side, where you know it’s predominantly black. In the 60s and 70s, I’m a white boy in a black neighborhood. There was only two kinds of white boys in my neighborhood. Punks that got abused, or fighters. There was no in between,” said Blake. “Strength is what matters. Decency doesn't matter.”
When he was sent away a quarter of a century ago, Billy Blake was no stranger to prison. He'd spent most of his life in lockups.
He said remorse has set in for the Clark shooting. That was something he had to keep to himself.
“You know, I don't get out my gate and say, oh, I feel so terrible about this. That's not prison cool. You know? Killing a cop is. That’s prison cool. That’s major points. But, being sorry for it, if somebody asks me, I admit, if I had to do it over again, would you? Of course not,” said Blake.
Still considered a severe security risk, Blake has spent the past 20 plus years in what's called "administrative segregation", the equivalent of solitary confinement. Most of his time alone. Reading, writing, and thinking.
“Twenty -three hours a day. And I can go outside into an empty yard, by myself, for an hour. So, it’s not too lovely of an existence. Death, for me, would be an outlet. Would be an escape from that,” said Blake.
A life lived largely alone. Occasionally, there have been thoughts of suicide.
Blake said, “I’ve thought about it. I’ve definitely thought about it. But, I always figure that if I do that, my detractors and the haters would get too much joy.
Billy Blake was sentenced to 77 years to life in state prison. He will be eligible for parole in the year 2064.
Still, in Billy Blake's mind, there is room for hope.
“Because I’m intensely curious to see how this mad thing is going to play out. Am I going to die of old age in prison, someday? Or, am I going to make it back out there, free? I have no intentions of escaping. I don’t want to be hunted like a dog. I wouldn’t make it for long and then I’d be right back here. And I’m not going to kill nobody else, again. Unless I’m attacked and it’s to defend myself. I don’t want another dead man on my conscience,” said Blake. “I’m just biding my time until my time in this world is over. Till I get to the next life and that I ain’t going to screw up as bad as I’ve done this one.
Blake hopes, eventually, a governor will consider a grant of clemency. The longest time ever served by someone in an American prison was 64 years. That inmate, convicted murderer Richard Honeck, was freed from an Illinois prison in 1963. At that time he was 84 years old.
He lived another 13 years, free.