What's a nice British tourist doing on our death row?
She isn't Demi Moore, but at 45, Linda Young has winning traits nonetheless. She's blond and attractive. She's agreeable and quick to laugh. She's witty and articulate. Her Irish lilt is lovely.
You can understand why an unattached middle-aged guy might take an interest in her.
Young's interest in Herbert Blakeney--whom she more or less married last month--is more of a head-scratcher.
The 42-year-old Blakeney, a retired Philly cop's son, is on death row at the state correctional institution in Greene County (SCI Greene). A jury put him there after convicting him of slaying his 14-month-old stepson eight years ago.
"This is a guy who took a knife to an infant's throat," says Dauphin County district attorney Ed Marsico, who prosecuted Blakeney in 2002.
Young, a native of Northern Ireland who now lives in Yorkshire, England, realizes most people think she's lost her mind.
"Years ago I would've thought the same thing," she says on an early May afternoon while relaxing on a leather couch in the Upper Darby apartment of Blakeney's nephew.
But that was before she saw a British TV documentary about American death row inmates in 2004 and subsequently became Blakeney's pen pal. Before she fell in love with him. Before she flew over to meet him at SCI Greene in southwestern Pennsylvania.
And before she researched his conviction, which she contends is full of holes.
"Herbert could not have killed the baby," she says. "It isn't possible."
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which affirmed Blakeney's death sentence on May 1, disagrees.
This doesn't faze Young. Nor does the realization that she might never touch the man she considers her husband.
"Our relationship isn't based on the physical," she says. "It's based on our feelings and our thoughts and what we like and what we can share."
For now, they're sharing a condemned man's cell, at least psychologically.
"I feel like I'm right there with him," says Young, just back from a week of daylong non-contact visits to death row, which she describes as "terrifying," though not terrifying enough to shake her commitment to Blakeney.
In days she'll return to England, where her first order of business will be legally changing her name to his.
Young couldn't officially marry Blakeney last month since Pennsylvania law requires that both partners in a prospective marriage appear before whatever authority they're seeking the licenses from. Blakeney, for obvious reasons, couldn't make it to the Greene County clerk of courts office. And officials from that office don't travel to SCI Greene.
"We don't have to," says county clerk Shirley Stockdale.
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