Woman files lawsuit after chaplain denies her request to marry convicted killer

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MUNCIE, Ind. — A Delaware County woman who says a chaplain denied her request to marry a prisoner has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to wed her fiancé.

According to the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, Clara Simons has been engaged to inmate “Woody” Blenkenship for more than two years. Blenkenship is currently incarcerated 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. Authorities said he’d used a flashlight to beat to death a woman he’d been dating. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

4 Fast Facts

  • Woman files lawsuit seeking to wed prisoner
  • She said chaplain denied their request, citing man’s “criminal history”
  • The two have been engaged for two years and have kept in contact
  • She said she’s aware of his criminal history and that they’ve openly discussed it

By September 2011, he’d been released. He was then charged in Marion County with three counts of rape, four counts of criminal deviate conduct as well as criminal confinement and battery. He pleaded guilty to criminal confinement in that case and was sentenced to 15 years; the other charges were dismissed as a result. He’s due for release 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.”

Simons knows about Blenkenship’s criminal history and has discussed it “openly with him,” according to court documents.

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.

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