It has been 25 years since the fatal shooting of a sheriff's deputy shook Central New York. The man convicted of David Clark's murder was Billy Blake. The last time Blake spoke publicly was in an interview with Bill Carey in 1988. Now, he is talking again. In the first of two reports, our Bill Carey tells us what happened in February 1987 and what haunts the mind of a convicted killer.
The words splashed across page one broke a community's heart. Two deputies were shot at DeWitt Town Court. Deputy David Clark, married with two children, dead. Deputy Bernie Meleski, married, the father of five, in serious condition.
In custody was a 23-year-old from Syracuse -- no stranger to police. Billy Blake had been in trouble for most of his life. He'd been freed from state prison when he was arrested at a motel on a robbery charge.
"I had been out of prison 50 days," Blake said. "So, I was sick. I said to myself, oh man, back to prison. I’m not going. I’m going to get out."
Blake was consumed by one thought: escape. His chance came during a routine court appearance in what was then the DeWitt town court building.
Blake said, "I had tried to get some help to escape from the courthouse that night, but I didn't think it was really going to happen. I didn't think that they would have the guts to do it. And, as it turned out, they didn't."
He saw his chance as he and two other prisoners were escorted from the building. His plan, to grab a deputy's gun.
"I got the thought in my mind now to go for the gun," Blake said. "And so, I can’t get near Clark. He’s behind us. So my attention switched to Meleski."
He lunged for Meleski's gun. Bernie Meleski and David Clark tried desperately to get the weapon back. Clark finally backed away to pull his own revolver.
Blake said, "I swung the gun around as quick as possible and I shot Clark just as his gun was...another millisecond and he would have shot me."
Then he turned his attention to Meleski.
"Before he could even get back on me, I shot him three times. I just squeezed until he fell," he said.
Still handcuffed to two other prisoners, Blake ran into a parking lot. A passing, off-duty deputy spotted the group and cut short the escape.
A Newhouse School photography student snapped a picture of a smiling gunman -- a picture that had turned broken hearts cold.
"Nobody knows why that smile came on to my face," Blake said.
A quarter century later, Blake said he wasn't smiling about the shooting, but the efforts of his captors to shoo away the photographer.
He explained, "She was screamed at, to get the hell out of there, by a deputy. He almost fell on the ice moving towards her. I thought it was comical and I smiled."
But Billy Blake was far from racked by guilt over what had just happened.
"It was just another bloody day in Dodge for me," he said. "That’s how I felt. Violence to me, by the time I was 23, was par for the course. I had did years in prison. Years in juvenile detentions, as a kid. That was my life."
The community mourned. Blake was off to prison for 77 years to life. Alone in his cell, be began to assess what he had done.
Blake said, "I remember seeing the pictures of the two little boys of Deputy Clark in the paper. That picture has haunted me all the time. It never goes too long without me thinking about the impact I had on two children’s lives."
And the case isn't over yet. In State Supreme Court, Wendy Clark, the widow, and two sons of David Clark were awarded damages in the case. Billy Blake came to a Syracuse courtroom for a rare appearance and again delivered his apology.
Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh said, "As they say, the apology doesn't feed the bulldog. We lost a friend. The Clark family lost a husband and father. Those impacts cannot be erased by any kind of apology."
An apology Billy Blake knows the family of David Clark will never accept.
"I took their Daddy away from them, and I didn't have a good reason to do it," he said. "It was selfishness. And that’s how I was, basically, back then. I was a selfish scumbag."
Billy Blake, now 48 years old, will not be eligible for parole until 2064. He'll be 100 years old if he lives that long.
From the start, he's been held in special housing -- the equivalent of solitary confinement -- as he was judged a security risk. The state has no plans to change that designation.
In his next report, Bill Carey talks to Blake about the path to a life of violence, his thoughts of suicide and his firm belief that he will eventually walk out of prison, a free man.