28-year-old Amanda Blackburn died after being shot during an apparent robbery at her home. Her husband is the pastor at Resonate Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
INDIANAPOLIS — Police investigating the slaying of an Indianapolis pastor’s wife this week vowed Friday to catch her killer.
Amanda Blackburn, 28, was found critically injured Tuesday after being shot in the head inside her home. Blackburn, who died Thursday, was 12 weeks pregnant with the couple’s second child.
Law enforcement authorities said Friday that they have some leads on a possible suspect in the case: surveillance camera footage of a person wearing a hoodie trying to conceal his or her face. A dark SUV was reported in the area, and neighbors reported hearing shots.
“To the individual who committed this crime: You are not as good as you think you are,” said Eric Hench of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, noting that evidence was left behind.
Officials said an earlier burglary in the Northwestside neighborhood of the Blackburn home now appears connected to the case. Earlier this week, police said they had established no links at that time.
Officials said there were no signs of forced entry into the home but believe the killer may have seen an opportunity when Amanda’s husband, Davey, left that morning to go to the gym.
Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Capt. Craig Converse said the department has a lot of “angry” and “tired” detectives working the case.
Officers were noticeably shaken by the case of Blackburn.
“For those responsible for killing Amanda: We are coming. We are coming,” Doug Carter of the Indiana State Police said.
Indianapolis Police say home video surveillance cameras caught images of the man who investigators believe broke into an Indianapolis home and fatally shot a pastor’s pregnant wife. (Nov. 13)
The update on the Blackburn case came as law enforcement officials from many agencies addressed 2015 homicide investigations.
The person responsible for Blackburn’s slaying could face decades in prison for the crime — a sentence that would likely be enhanced, experts say, because the 28-year-old woman was pregnant.
Because Blackburn was expecting, legal experts say anyone arrested in connection with the crime could be charged with more than her murder, a conviction on which would already send a person to prison for 45 to 65 years. In certain murder cases, the crime also can be punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Legal experts say the options available to state prosecutors for additional charges or sentence enhancements are numerous, depending on whether the killer knew the woman was pregnant or how far along she was in her pregnancy.
For example, a state statute passed in 2009 allows the state to seek harsher penalties if a murder victim was pregnant, said Indianapolis attorney Jack Crawford, a former Lake County prosecutor. That enhancement, Crawford said, could add six to 20 years to the convicted murderer’s prison sentence.
Given what is known about the Blackburn case, that enhancement may be the best option, said Republican Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, who authored that legislation.
“I think if there’s a court hearing, prosecutors can make a very, very good case that an enhancement from six to 20 years is appropriate,” Merritt said.
Merritt said the enhancement was part of a package of criminal revisions aimed at punishing someone who harms or kills a pregnant woman, terminating her pregnancy in the process. He drafted that legislation after an Indianapolis man was convicted of shooting a pregnant bank teller during an April 2008 robbery. The woman was five months pregnant with twins; she survived, but they did not.
Then-Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi charged the 29-year-old suspect, Brian Kendrick, with both feticide and attempted murder. Brizzi later pushed for harsher penalties for feticide because Indiana law did not allow him to bring murder charges against Kendrick because the fetuses were too young.
In 2011, the feticide conviction was tossed out by the Indiana Court of Appeals. The judges ruled that convictions on both charges conflicted with the state’s double jeopardy law because the same evidence was used to prove each charge.
Still, changes made to state law after the Kendrick case could lead to harsher penalties for whoever is responsible for Blackburn’s death.
Merritt said in addition to the pregnancy-related murder enhancement, his legislation also upgraded the state’s feticide law from a Class C to a Class B felony. Under the revised criminal code of 2014, feticide is now a Level 3 felony punishable by three to 16 years in prison. Before the change, a conviction could only lead to a maximum of eight years in prison.
One aspect of the feticide statute, though, requires the killer to have known the victim was pregnant.
The Blackburns moved to Indianapolis two years ago to plant a new church. They had lived for four years in South Carolina, where Davey Blackburn served as an assistant pastor at NewSpring Church. NewSpring, which provided The Star with the photos of the smiling couple, now sees more than 30,000 people every Sunday.
The Blackburns called their Indianapolis mission the Resonate Church. Its message was tailored to young people. Each week the sermon videos are posted on the church website. Topics have included relationship advice, resolving conflicts and what the bible says about sex.
In the Oct. 27 sermon, the Blackburns spoke openly about their relationship and their struggles to mesh as a couple.
They met on a blind date. Amanda’s sister was dating Davey’s best friend. They went to a concert by the Christian band Hawk Nelson. They were attending different colleges at the time. Davey was on fall break, and he hung out with Amanda the whole week. They just clicked.
To the outside world, they were the perfect couple. But they struggled, too.
“We had a really great honeymoon,” Amanda said in the video of the Oct. 27 question-and-answer style sermon. “We were so in love, taking pictures. Then, literally, the next day he went to work. It was like honeymoon over.”
Before the wedding, they had been dating long distance and had not really spent more than a few weeks together at a time.
“When you’re dating and so in love, you can forget about all the conflict or the things that might annoy you,” Amanda said. “But once you get married those things become a really big deal.”
They went to counseling and learned to communicate.
In the Oct. 20 sermon, Davey Blackburn told the congregation that Amanda took a purity pledge when she was a teen.
She was so true to that pledge that she refused to even kiss a man before she was married.
“Do you know how much that meant to me?” he said. “From that moment that I kissed her I knew there was going to be a special bond inside of God’s plan for us.”
Contributing: Vic Ryckaert, The Indianapolis Star. Follow Jill Disis on Twitter: @jdisis. Follow Madeline Buckley on Twitter: @Mabuckley88
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