A television producer charged with killing her sister pleaded no contest Wednesday to voluntary manslaughter.
Jill Blackstone, 59, was immediately sentenced to eight years in state prison following her plea to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter involving the March 2015 death of 49-year-old Wendy Blackstone in Studio City, along with three felony counts of animal cruelty involving three dogs -- two of whom died.
In an April 2018 statement announcing Jill Blackstone's arrest, Los Angeles police said homicide detectives believed "the motive was Jill's frustration of being forced to provide Wendy long-term care, as well as the associated financial hardship."
Jill Blackstone told Los Angeles police detectives in a March 2015 interview that her sister had profound vision and hearing loss. She told police that she had devoted her life to "saving animals and saving people" and "helping Wendy" and "would never want to bring her harm."
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"I know what it looks like. This was not, this was not me. It's just not," she told the detectives.
Earlier in the interview from a hospital bed, she said she had used a charcoal barbecue to make burgers, then went to get something and remembered falling in the driveway. She said she awoke in broad daylight to the sun beating down on her neck, called a friend and told her she thought she was having a stroke because she couldn't walk.
Police contended that Jill Blackstone — who has worked on such programs as "The Jerry Springer Show," "Divorce Court," "The Tony Danza Show" and "Family Court with Judge Penny" — set the garage on fire, killing her sister and two of the dogs, and staged it as an accident.
"My client pled no contest clearly to abate her exposure to dying" while behind bars in a case in which "we didn't really have a solid proof of the cause of death," defense attorney Danny Davis said after the plea, noting that his client has Parkinson's disease and Lupus and is in a wheelchair.
The coroner's office concluded that Wendy Blackstone died from inhalation of combustion and alprazolam, a sedative, but Davis said he disputed the findings.
Davis noted earlier that prosecutors had waited for three years to file the case, and that biological and toxicological evidence that had been collected and analyzed was destroyed before the prosecution filed the case.
"They killed a chance to have a better understanding of what caused her death," Davis said of more comprehensive testing that could have been done.
Davis called the case a "family tragedy" and said his client's elderly parents didn't want to see their daughter die in prison.
During a roughly five-day hearing in 2019 in which Blackstone was ordered to stand trial on a murder charge, a Los Angeles police detective testified that a note allegedly written by Blackstone was found near her dead sister's hand.
Police also found notes taped with black duct tape to a black trash can, including one that warned to "Enter carefully" and advised that "both parties have do not resuscitate orders," and a note that identified the hair color of each of the two, the detective testified.
In rejecting the defense's contention that the prosecution had presented insufficient evidence, Superior Court Judge James Brandolino noted that a reasonable inference could be drawn from the evidence that Jill Blackstone had planned what was to be a murder-suicide, with the suicide going "awry," adding that the nature of notes and signs left at the scene "clearly support such an inference."
She had been arrested shortly after her sister's death inside a garage in the 12000 block of Landale Street, but was released when prosecutors declined to file charges.
Jill Blackstone was arrested again in April 2018 and has remained in jail since then.
She could have faced a potential life prison term if she had been convicted of the murder charge, which was dismissed as a result of her plea.
"This is not a slap on the wrist," Jill Blackstone's attorney said of the sentence.
If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.