By Bruce A. Smith
The following is a touching and powerful correspondence that I received from a former client of mine, Olujimi Blakeney. In it, Olujimi, via his wife “Jay,” utilizes the pages of the Mountain News to offer a written apology to the woman he murdered during a drive-by shooting in Tacoma in 2010. Olujimi also asks the family of the deceased for their forgiveness.
The woman was named Lisa Melancon, aged 40, and she was a wife and mother of several children.
Olujimi, “Jimi” as we called him, shot and killed Ms. Melancon on July 22, 2010 during a confrontation between groups of young men and women that grew chaotic and violent one evening as they surged onto an East Tacoma street. Ms. Melancon was a bystander, standing on her front porch as the youth of her neighborhood got loud and crazy. She was hit by a stray bullet that Jimi fired out a car window as he and his friends fled the scene.
Jimi escaped to California but was later apprehended. Upon his return to Washington, he was convicted and sentenced to 61 years in prison.
During a six-month period in 2001-2002, I was Jimi’s counselor while he was in a foster care. He lived in a residential facility in Tacoma operated by Gateways for Youth and Families, and when I got a press release from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department concerning Jimi’s arrest I began following the case. I wrote two articles about this incident for the Mountain News-WA, albeit from the unusual perspective of knowing Jimi previously and having a unique relationship with him.
As for Joe Melancon, Lisa’s husband, I only spoke with him briefly at Jimi’s sentencing, and a deeper interview seemed intrusive at that time. That said, my current efforts to contact Mr. Melancon and his family to obtain a more balanced view of this tragedy have been unsuccessful so far.
I spoke with Jimi in prison a few days ago to verify that the apology and letter to Lisa attributed to him on the Mountain News are actually his words, and he confirmed their authenticity. He also explained how the apology manifested. He told me that he has been very active in prison, attending several classes that are helping him become a more responsible adult, especially a drug and alcohol program called “Bridges to Life.” One of the key elements of that class is encouraging participants to acknowledge their actions. As part of that exercise, Jimi said he wrote his apology and then read it aloud to his class. “Everybody in the group liked it,” he said. “The apology was definitely long over due, and I can do it it now because I know I needed to do it.”
Along those lines, Jimi is also attending a Black Prisoners Caucus, which he finds to be another supportive and educational group. “They’re helping me become ‘more conscious,’” he told me, “and not be ashamed of my troubled youth – but rather to see it in a different way, to redefine it as simply a part of my story.”
Note, “Jay” is the screen name for Jamie Harris, Jimi’s wife. Jimi dictated his apology and letter to her, and she posted them in the “comments” section of the pieces I wrote in 2011 about the murder and Jimi’s sentencing. Links to those articles can be found at the end of Jimi’s apology. Jay and Jimi offer two letters; first is an apology written to the “World,” followed by an open-letter written directly to Lisa Melancon.
From Jay and Olujimi, March 29, 2018:
My name is Olujimi Blakeney and I am writing this in hopes of the world to truly get a better glance and understanding of the man you are reading about.
Yes, I am guilty of taking a innocent woman’s life. I took away a daughter, a sister, a mother-wife-friend, and a wonderful person from this world. And this was done by reckless actions of my immature choices of a young man fueled off alcohol and a unpredictable situation.
The words I write can never replace my actions but these words are true, genuine, sincere. I now am fully aware of what it is that I did and despite it being a accident I did not take responsibility like a man should and I fled like a little boy, and that has merit to it inside the text. I never thought in my life time I would be sentenced to lifetime in prison let alone the one who took a person life away and when this harsh reality came to me I was afraid of what I did and only knew one thing and that was to run.
So what I am trying to convey is I am responsible for what you read, but I am not a man with ill intentions at all. I am not a monster by any means, I am a human who made a terrible mistake and striving to teach the younger men in my presences the importance of being kind, respectful, learning forgiveness.
I do know the impact my actions have left, so I ask you to try not to judge me off of what is written but by the unpredictable forces of life, youth, alcohol, and a innocent person. I ask to be forgiven by the family, friends, husband, and community affected by this, will forgiveness be granted? This is a unknown chapter, but I am truly sorry for what I did and pray that when the time comes and you can find the compassion inside your heart to forgive me I will be waiting and embracing the forgiveness of everyone.
In closing, I want to express that I will be apologizing for the rest of my life for this. I will work hard everyday, every month and every year to redefine myself to become a better person and allow my mistake to propel me into a positive individual who can teach and just be known for the worst thing I ever done in life.
Sincerely, Olujimi Blakeney
Jay and Olujimi: March 29, 2018, (To Lisa Melancon)
This Letter is one that must be written. Unforeseen, never forgotten, is what replays in my mind as well as my heart.
I never would have imagined that our lives, our two different worlds, would meet and create what was created. And for my actions I am sorry.
What makes this letter so difficult to write is because you’re not here on this earth to read this or hear it, and this is all due to me. Yes, your blood is on my hands and no matter how many times I wash them they will always remain covered with your blood. I never knew you and you never knew me.
So if I may, I want to introduce myself to you? My name is Olujimi Blakeney and I am the man who is solely responsible for taking your life. I am 33yrs old now and at the time of our unforeseen incident I was 25yrs old. I want to apologize truly and sincerely from the bottom of my heart.
That terrible night my actions of firing a gun out a car window was completely immature, dumb, stupid and wrong. So wrong I took your life. A complete accident.
I want to say that I pray every night to be forgiven for what I did. By you, your husband, your family, your friends and the community you and I both lived in. My heart is extremely heavy because of what I did. I am ashamed of my actions. To have a beautiful name but associated with this name is the title of a murderer. And I must say and express that I take full responsibility for this, yet I want you to know that I am a new man, changed man, a caring thoughtful and most of all a very apologetic man.
What I did can never be undone, what I am saying may not do anything, but I want to say that I want to be better for you and myself. I will continuously strive for change in my life and forgiveness.
I end with this: Lisa I am so so sorry for what I did, taking you away from so many people. And I will continue to say I am sorry for the rest of my life; it’s the least I can do.
Here are links to the original Mountain News articles on Jimi’s actions and the death of Lisa Melancon:
- Jimi Gets 61 Years:
- Remembering Jimi
The following was received by the Mountain News. It is an email from reader Steve Klein and re-posted here with his permission:
On 4/8/2018 8:23 PM, Steve Klein wrote:
> This is amazing, thank you for the bcc to me, Bruce, of the journey of an amazing human being to have come to terms in this manner within 6+ years at his still-young age.
> There’s alot of wisdom in this being.
> I forgive him!
> However, that said, and my intent is not to be trite here, the next question Jimi should contemplate and consider IS, can he forgive himself.
> Then, he will be his own redeemer. Then, I want to visit and meet him, look him in the eye and hug him face to face, and bless his being in-person,
> even though thru a phone or glass.
Here’s another email from another reader, Pat Sparks:
Incredible! Such sadness and grief and loss in just a few impulsive moments. Jimi seems to be honestly remorseful now. But he’s had years to learn about himself and his effects on others.
Does he have any insight or suggestions for helping other youth who seem to be on the same path of reckless behaviors? There are daily gun battles or drive by shootings now – with many deaths.
So sad for all involved.
Thanks for sharing the thoughtful articles!
It’s hard for me to feel sympathy for Jimi. I did a little research on this case because I thought 61 years was a bit steep for second-degree murder. Most people get half that much. But when you sit there in the courtroom on sentencing day, and don’t even have sense enough to apologize, then they generally toss the book at you.
Judges in these cases hardly ever go the absolute max, (per the Sentencing Reform Act guidelines of 1982) unless there is a pretty good reason. And it was an accidental shooting, as well. You have to believe Jimi’s lawyer warned him that he should be contrite in court and offer up an apology, even if at the time he didn’t mean it. Now he’s in there until at least 2068, and that is entirely his fault.
“You make your choices, you take your chances…”
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