California tree trimmer guilty in deadly throat-slashings

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OROVILLE, Calif. (AP) — A tree trimmer in rural Northern California was found guilty in a series of throat-slashing attacks that left three people dead, prosecutors announced Wednesday.

A jury in Butte County on Tuesday found Ryan Scott Blinston, 37, guilty of murder, attempted murder and arson, the Tehama County District Attorney's office said. Blinston, of Oroville, faces a mandatory term of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Blinston was working for a tree-trimming service when in 2020 he returned to the clients’ homes in Butte and Tehama Counties, north of Sacramento, after the work was completed and slashed the throats of the residents, prosecutors said.

In May 2020, he attacked Loreen Severs, 88, of Los Molinos in Tehama County and her husband, Homer Severs, 91. Homer Severs survived the attack but died that December of an unrelated illness, authorities said.

Blinston was also charged in the killing of Sandra George, 82, and an acquaintance, Vicky Cline, 57, both of Oroville in Butte County. He was also charged with torching Cline’s car.

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The District Attorney for Tehama and Butte counties agreed to combine the charges and have the case tried in Butte County, prosecutors said.

Blinston was arrested before dawn on June 14, 2020 — about a week after Cline vanished — by a Butte County sheriff’s SWAT team that had tracked him to a motorhome in heavily wooded and isolated Brush Creek, where authorities planned to arrest him on suspicion of burning Cline’s car, prosecutors said.

The team approached the motorhome and heard the muffled screams of a man inside and loud banging on the outside of the motorhome. The banging turned out to be Blinston attempting to get into the motorhome with a hatchet, prosecutors said.

Blinston ran into the woods, refused to drop the hatchet and was captured after a short struggle and the use of a stun gun and pepper spray, authorities said.

Blinston had met the 50-year-old owner of the motorhome earlier and then stayed over because he told the man he was afraid to leave after dark because of bears, the resident told authorities.

The man said he was sleeping when he awoke to find Blinston attacking him with a knife, prosecutors said.

Blinston slashed his neck but the man said he was able to kick him out of the motorhome and lock the door. A medic treated the seriously injured man and he was airlifted to a hospital, they said.

The SWAT team may have saved the man’s life, prosecutors said, because the isolated area had no cellphone service and it was unlikely anyone would have heard the man’s cries for help.

Prosecutors didn't mention a motive for the crimes other than to say robbery was not a motivating factor.

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