Delaware County woman files federal lawsuit because chaplain won’t let her marry convicted killer

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MUNCIE, Ind. — A Delaware County woman has filed a federal lawsuit after she says a chaplain denied her request to marry a convicted killer in prison.

According to a lawsuit filed last week, Clara Simons has been engaged to inmate “Woody” Blenkenship for more than two years. Blenkenship is currently at the Correctional Industrial Facility in Pendleton.

He was convicted of murder and criminal confinement in Marion County in 1990, when he was known as Albert Roberts. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison after authorities say he beat his girlfriend to death with a flashlight.

He was released in September 2011. But a short time later, he was charged in Marion County once again with three counts of rape, four counts of criminal deviate conduct, criminal confinement, and battery.

He pleaded guilty to criminal confinement and was sentenced to 15 years; the other charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement. He’s scheduled to be released in 2023, according to court records.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Simons, his fiancée, says they’ve kept their relationship going through visits, phone calls and letters as permitted by prison policy. Blenkenship submitted a request to Chaplain Jeffrey Hinshaw to marry Simons several months ago, the lawsuit said.

They completed premarital classes at the prison, but the chaplain “orally informed” them in September 2016 that they weren’t eligible to marry because of Blenkenship’s criminal history.

Simons sought out officials at the prison to complain about the issue, the lawsuit said. While this didn’t get the marriage approved, it did result in a formal written denial from Henshaw that said Blenkenship’s criminal history was the reason their request for marriage had been rejected.

The lawsuit contends that the chaplain’s refusal to let Simons and Blenkenship marry violates Simons’ “fundamental right to marry the person of her choosing.”

According to court documents, Simons and Blenkenship have “openly” discussed his criminal history.

Both Hinshaw and Wendy Knight, superintendent of the Correctional Industrial Facility, are named as defendants in the suit, which said Simons has suffered “emotional harm” from her inability to marry Blenkenship.

The lawsuit asks for an injunction that would allow them to get married and also seeks damages.