Case Update: Trial Dates Set for Mom and Boyfriend Accused of Rape and Murder of 1-Year-Old Sereniti Sutley

Three years to the day after this precious little girl’s death, I have an update for you on the criminal cases against her accused murderers: her mother, Kelsie Blankenship, and Kelsie’s boyfriend, Joshua Gurto.

As I discussed in detail on episode 21 of Suffer the Little Children Podcast, Sereniti Sutley was barely three weeks past her first birthday when she died on October 7, 2017.

(Sereniti’s Warriors Facebook group)

Based on the injuries she had suffered, police and medical professionals believed Sereniti had been raped and beaten to death by her mother’s boyfriend, 37-year-old Joshua Dale Gurto, who went on the run from the family’s apartment in Conneaut, Ohio. He was captured on October 27, 2017 at a gas station in Pennsylvania and extradited back to Ashtabula County, where he faced multiple charges, including three counts of murder and two counts of aggravated murder, as well as one count each of felony rape, felonious assault, and misdemeanor domestic violence. The aggravated murder charges came with a death penalty specification.

Sereniti’s mother, Kelsie Marie Blankenship, who was 22 at the time of her daughter’s death, was blindsided a full year later when she was arrested on October 19, 2018 and charged with two counts of felony murder, one count of felonious assault, two second-degree felony counts of endangering children, one third-degree felony count of endangering children, and a misdemeanor count of domestic violence. 

After Kelsie’s indictment, Joshua Gurto’s death penalty specification was dropped, and although Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci would not give the reasons for this decision, he said they “may come to light in the future.” My best guess is that Joshua provided investigators with information that led to Kelsie’s indictment, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he testifies at her trial.

Sereniti Blankenship Sutley
Sweet baby Sereniti.
(Thompson Smith Nesbitt Funeral Home)

Kelsie’s attorney, Marie Lane, attempted in July of 2019 to have suppressed a statement Kelsie made to a therapist about having a desire to kill her child, but the motion was ultimately denied in June of this year.

Anyway, Joshua Gurto’s trial was scheduled to begin on August 4, but it was continued. On August 17, his attorneys, Thomas Shaughnessy and Ariana Tarighati, filed a motion for bond reduction.

At a bond reduction and status hearing that took place on October 2, Judge Marianne Sezon set the matter for a pending motions hearing on March 17, 2021, ordering defense counsel to provide an updated list to the court on any pending motions that have not been decided one week prior to the hearing. She also scheduled a status conference for April 7, 2021 at 1:00 PM, and on the same date, she scheduled Joshua’s jury trial to begin at 9:00 AM on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. 

Sereniti Blankenship Sutley
Princess Sereniti at her first (and only) birthday party.

As for Kelsie, after her trial, which was initially scheduled to take place in May of 2020, was continued at the defense’s request, Judge Sezon rescheduled it on September 29 without so much as a hearing. Kelsie’s jury trial has been set to begin at 9:00 AM on Tuesday, February 9, 2021. 

It’s been three years coming, but justice will soon be served for baby Sereniti, a precious blue-eyed princess who loved Scooby Doo and sleeping with the monkey her grandma made for her. For more photos of Sereniti, click here to view the Facebook photo album I uploaded for the podcast episode.

Click here for my ongoing coverage of Sereniti’s case. 

Sources: Ashtabula County Ohio Courts System eAccess


  1. I applaud you for having the courage and the stomach to write and talk about such horrendous assaults on those precious babes. I will never understand why. I have cried many tears over these children that never had a chance. I wish I could do more.

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