Daniel Blan Has an Alibi?

Early in my investigation, I had some help from a friend of mine, Josh Scott. Josh rode with me to Coosa County several times to scout out the crime scene and to view the evidence at the courthouse.

We took our first trip to Rockford in March of 2018 when we had planned to pick up the trial transcripts I had requested through a public records request, and to see if we could find Mike’s house. Mike’s address was never stated in the trial transcripts, so we thought we could check property records for his last name. Unfortunately, records prior to 1997 weren’t yet cataloged in the online system. We decided to head to City Hall for a county map, hoping some of the road names mentioned in the transcripts would ring a bell, but none did.

Incase it isn’t obvious, Josh and I had no clue what we were doing. We thought we had a plan, but that plan really went nowhere. After a few hours, we were discussing plans to head home when Josh noticed a familiar name, David Law. Law is now the district judge in Coosa County, but at the time of my investigation he was a private attorney. We recognized his name as one of the attorneys who had represented Blan on a previous Rule 32 motion, which is a post-conviction appeal in Alabama.

As we walked out of the courthouse, Josh pointed out a large sign in front of a small home-turned-office with Law’s credentials plastered on it and suggested we pop in to see if he would talk to us. As luck would have it, Law did take some time speak with us. He politely declined my request to record our conversation, but he did talk to us a bit about what he remembered about the case.

We learned that Blan had been unsuccessful on the Rule 32 motion that Law filed, which isn’t unusual. These petitions are filed by inmates all the time and success with these motions is pretty rare in Alabama.

Although numerous appeals had been filed and denied before David Law came into the picture, he said he was still pretty convinced of Blan’s innocence, mostly because of the introduction of two alibi witnesses that were never approached by investigators. He believed that had investigators contacted these two witnesses prior to trial, they would have been able to exclude Blan from the pool of suspects.

These two witnesses – Allen James and his mother, Jean Hill – claimed that Blan was with them when Mike was killed, not in Rockford committing murder. According to Blan, when he wasn’t staying with his own mother in Birmingham, he was a bit of a couch surfer, cracking on a friend’s couch here and there. He’s bum rides to work from whatever friend agreed to let him spend the night.

For a few months in 1994, Blan stayed with Allen and Jean at their apartment in Warrior, about 25 miles from where Daniel worked. Because Allen worked close to Daniel, he would drop him off at work before heading a few miles over to his job.

According to Allen’s testimony, he said he had picked Blan up at Consolidated Pipe after Allen’s shift ended at 5:30pm. Blan had already clocked out at 5:01pm, so he waited a bit for Allen to pick him up, then the two of them headed to Allen’s apartment he shared with Jean.

Allen said once they got to the apartment, another friend of his – Tommy Hannah – arrived and, together with Daniel, they drove to Hardee’s to grab dinner. Allen claimed he specifically remembered this night (July 27, 1994) because he and Blan had gotten into an argument on the way back from Hardees because Allen did not want Blan to eat in his new car, a Ford Ranger. Their juvenile argument lasted throughout the night, so Allen and Tommy left to go to a nearby pond to fish. When they got back around midnight, Blan was asleep on the couch.

This story was confirmed by Allen’s mother, Jean, when she testified that while Allen and Tommy went fishing, she and Blan stayed at the house watching television. She also stated that Blan left for a while around 8:00pm with an unknown friend. When asked what this friend looked like, she could only describe him as an African-American male, but was unable to provide additional information.

The Timecard

A report showing Daniel Blan’s timecard the week after the murder of Mike Bernos

In addition to testimony from Allen and Jean, Blan had another alibi. I discussed this in debt with Blan’s wife, Christina Blan, on multiple occassions.

CHRISTINA: What really pissed me off was the two court appointed monkeys who couldn’t, who wouldn’t know their backside from a hole in the ground. When they were asked at, I don’t know if it was a Rule 32 or 34, I’m not sure. But when they were asked at another time in the court there and they were asked, “Why didn’t you push about the fact that Daniel could not have gotten to the crime scene in time?” Well, one lawyer was like, “Well, I did it and there was like a 15-minute window.” Well, the whole thing was, he ended up being late for court, for the trial, at one point because he was driving that route.

According to Mike’s death certificate, the coroner estimated his time of death to be 6:00pm on July 27, 1994. Blan’s attorneys were able to product a timecard showing he had left work at Consolidated Pipe in Birmingham, AL 5:01pm on that same day. This meant he would have to drive from Birmingham to Rockford, commit the murder, and drop Mike’s belongings on a nearby road within two hours.

I decided to see for myself if it was possible for Blan to make it from his job at Consolidated Pipe to Mike’s home in Rockford by 6:00pm as the coroner had estimated. I made plans to travel on a Wednesday afternoon, the same day of the week the crime had occurred. I would leave from Consolidated Pipe and make my way to Rockford using the fastest route that would have been available in 1994. The problem was, since 1994, Interstate 65 (the main road used during this trip) had been expanded several times since Mike’s death, so accurately determining travel time would be difficult.

I contacted the Alabama Department of Transportation to see when the road expansion was completed along the portion of interstate I would be driving. I was unable to find out exactly when construction began, but I did learn the first expansion from four lanes to six lanes was completed in May of 2003. If you’ve ever lived in Alabama, you know construction on major roadways can last up to 20 years, with I-65 being no exception. In other words, even though I-65 was only four lanes in 1994, it is possible there would have been major delays due to road construction, especially at 5:00pm.

Taking all of this information into consideration, I left Consolidated Pipe at exactly 5:01pm, the time Blan clocked out from work. As expected, there was heavy traffic along Interstate 65. When we pulled off the interstate in Clanton, it was pretty much smooth sailing for the remainder of the drive. We pulled onto the road where Mike’s home was located and stopped in front of his house at 6:35pm – one hour and 34 minutes from the time we left Consolidated Pipe. This means we arrived a whole half hour earlier than he would have if he had been responsible for Mike’s death.

I had just seen for myself, based on the timeline presented by the prosecution, Blan would not have had time to commit the murder. I had not even considered other information that would add time to Blan’s trip, such as the amount of time it would have taken him to get from the time clock to his vehicle. I would estimate around five minutes for him to get to his car, get settled, and start the trip. I also didn’t account for the time it would have taken him to pull in hide in the back of the house unnoticed before shooting Mike.

This seems to be pretty rock-solid evidence that Blan didn’t commit the murder. But what if you take his time card out of the mix? That is exactly what prosecutors attempted to do.

The Testimony of Kenneth Brooks

I spoke to the jury foreman, Arthur Smith, in a recorded phone call in 2018 and asked him about this.

ME: Now, during the trial, did you see his timecard from where he was at work, where he had punched out of work? I mean, how was that, how was that explained to you during the trial?

SMITH: Okay. Yeah, okay, he had a time card that said he was at work right? But there was a guy that testified that said this place was notorious for people coming in and punching in your timecard for you and you might not even show up for work on your shift. And he said that, you know that happened every day, so. You know, there wasn’t a whole lot of credibility [in the timecard] at all.

The person Arthur Smith spoke of was Kenneth Brooks, a manager at Consolidated Pipe who worked with Blan. Brooks testified about the way in which employees would clock out via a punched time card at the end of shift each day. Brooks stated there were some employees that would punch time out for employees other than themselves, although he did not admit to doing so for Blan at the time.

It is interesting to point out that during his trial testimony, Brooks is asked by Blan’s attorney, Greg Lowery, if Blan worked on the day Mike was murdered. Brooks answers, “No, sir. I don’t believe he worked.” When Lowery realizes what has been said, he asks to approach the witness. The remaining testimony is essentially Brooks being asked about what the time card shows before Lowery again asks Brooks if Blan worked that day. Brooks’ answers, “You know, I don’t really remember that long ago.”

When I first read over the trial transcripts, I did not put much faith into Brooks’ testimony. After speaking to the jury foreman, I discovered the jury put much more credence into his testimony than I did, as Brooks’ testimony helped the prosecution to disprove Blan’s only alibi offering physical evidence.

Reasonable Doubt on Investigation Discovery

At the beginning of 2019, Christina Blan was contacted by a producer of a show called Reasonable Doubt on Investigation Discovery. She sent me the message she had received and asked me to contact the producer, Alex Spector. I called and spoke to Alex at length and gave her an overview of the case. I had never watched theshow before, but Alex explained that their team would review cases of inmates who claim they had been wrongfully convicted with the help of retired police detective Chris Anderson (also featured on the show The First 48) and defense attorney Fatima Silva. If the team determined there was merit to the claims, they would pay for a private investigator to help find new evidence for the inmate to use on an appeal.

Christina Blan and Scott Blair appear on an episode of Investigation Discovery’s Reasonable Doubt to discuss the murder of Mike Bernos

Eventually producers opted to feature Blan’s case on the show which aired in February of 2020. Initially, I was extremely disappointed to learn that the team at Reasonable Doubt did not believe in Blan’s innocence. However, as time has passed, I understand why. More importantly, I now understand that the information they uncovered during the show is what has ultimately led me to also believe Blan may have been involved in the murder.

Seeing as to how most of the information presented in the show actually came from my correspondence with producers, there was little evidence presented that I was not already aware of. However, there was a crucial piece of new evidence that I was able to learn from the show, and that is the new testimony of Kenneth Brooks.

While Brooks testified at trial that he did not clock Blan out on the day of the murder, he told Detective Chris Anderson that he did clock Blan out that day. This meant that Blan’s rock solid alibi formed by the inclusion of the time card was no longer valid, and the experiment I had done to see if Blan could make it to Mike’s in time to commit the murder was also not of importance.

After the show aired, I found a phone number for Kenneth Brooks and contacted him to ask about his experience with the show. He reiterated everything that had aired, including the fact that he was the one who clocked Blan out on the day of the murder. When I asked him how he was able to remember that day specifically, he said it was because Blan later came to work crying hysterically and was very distraught after learning his father had been murdered.

When reviewing the time cards of Blan and Brooks in the evidence box at the Coosa County courthouse, I noticed that on the day of the murder, Brooks had clocked out over an hour after Blan did that day. I thought that meant Brooks had not really clocked him out because he would not wait around for another hour after his shift had ended. But when I asked Brooks about it, he said this was something he would do on a regular basis. He not only did this for Blan, but also for other employees. And that hour he waited? That wasn’t unusual either – he would do that frequently as he waited for a ride home.

Brooks said he could back up his story by reviewing the work log book that was kept at Consolidated Pipe. He explained that each day employees would have to enter their names in a log book each time they received or shipped out any materials, so even if Blan had a time card for the day of the murder, his name would not have appeared in the work log throughout the day. Brooks told me that investigators showed him this log book and proved to him that Blan’s name was missing for that day, but prosecutors never produced the log book at trial. I was unable to locate the book to fact check whether or not Blan actually was at work.

Unfortunately, Blan’s alibi continues to crumble after my conversation with Kenneth Brooks as he explained that Blan had also shown up at his apartment unannounced about a month after the murder. By this time, Brooks had left Consolidated Pipe and had gained employment at U.S. Steel in Birmingham, so he and Blan were no longer working together. Brooks said that during the visit, Blan was very quiet and was not acting like himself.

The producers of Reasonable Doubt had told me that Brooks stated during their interview that Blan had shown up to his apartment that day and requested Brooks tell investigators he was with him the day of the murder if investigators ever asked, but Brooks denied this when I spoke with him. He told me they didn’t talk about anything in particular, and that Blan’s visit was cut short when Brooks had to leave.

Producers of Reasonable Doubt did tell me that, although they believed Brooks to be a credible witness, he suffered from spinocerebellar ataxia, a rare genetic mutation that may result in being unable to remember information. Is it possible that Brooks is accurately remembering what happened despite his condition?

What do you think? Do either of Blan’s alibis hold any water? Why or why not?

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