Tuesday, Feb. 29, 2000 | 9:40 a.m.
North Las Vegas resident Seila Lim lost her sister, two nieces and her brother-in-law last summer when her brother-in-law shot his family to death and killed himself. Now seven months later, she faces losing her freedom.
Monday marked the first day of Lim's federal trial on charges that she made false statements to FBI agents investigating Timothy Blackburn's involvement in two bank robberies and his subsequent escape from the North Las Vegas Detention Center.
Although jurors weren't told of the Blackburn family's fate, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Schiess during opening arguments Monday did describe the web of lies the government says Lim wove.
Schiess told jurors that two armed robberies took place on Dec. 21, 1998. Both were committed by men who used walkie-talkies, white plastic flex handcuffs, a white Chevrolet S10 pickup and a gray Isuzu Rodeo.
An anonymous tip led FBI agents to Blackburn's house early Dec. 31, Schiess said. As agents walked toward the house, a vehicle sped around the corner, forcing one agent to dive for safety and prompting the other to jump into his vehicle to follow.
During the chase the vehicle slowed, and the passenger jumped out and ran, Schiess said. The agent stopped the vehicle and found Lim driving.
The passenger, who turned out to be Blackburn, was arrested later that day.
Lim told agents that Blackburn had called her parents' house asking for a ride home. Ten minutes later, she said, he arrived at the house after parking his gray Isuzu Rodeo nearby.
Hoping to search the Isuzu for evidence, Schiess said, FBI agents went to the spot where Lim said it was parked but couldn't find it.
During a second interview, Schiess said Lim said Blackburn arrived at the house by unknown means.
Lim also told FBI agents that she worked at the Mirage but failed to mention that she also worked as a teller at a Bank of America across the street from the bank repository that had been hit by the robbers on Dec. 21.
Schiess said the gray Isuzu was found one week later, sparkling clean, at Lim's parents' house.
Eight months later on Aug. 11, Lim's sister, Sophia, Blackburn's wife, helped break him out of jail and flee in a gray Isuzu, Schiess said.
The FBI went to Lim's parents' house, and after being taken to several sites looking for the Blackburns, they returned to find the Isuzu at the house.
When Lim returned, she told agents she hadn't seen or talked to her sister or Blackburn in weeks, Schiess said. However, a friend later told agents that Sophia Blackburn lived with Lim.
Lim also told agents that her vehicle, a Nissan Pathfinder, was in a repair shop, Schiess said. The next day, when the shop was open for business, agents discovered it wasn't there, potentially giving the Blackburns several hours' head start.
Three days later frustrated agents re-interviewed Lim, who said she loaned the Pathfinder to another sister, Schiess said. She also said she did see her sister on the day of the escape, but hours before it occurred.
FBI agents discovered that was a lie, too, Schiess said. Agents found a cellular phone inside Lim's house on Aug. 14 that records show was used by Blackburn three days earlier.
The records also show that Blackburn had called the cell phone repeatedly in the hours before the escape, Schiess said.
Defense attorney Mitchell Posin, during his brief opening statement, said not even FBI agents have "total recall." Because none of Lim's conversations with the FBI were recorded, the only documentation of her comments are handwritten notes by the agents paraphrasing her answers, he said.
Perhaps Lim only mentioned the Mirage that night because she told the officers she had just gotten off work there.
As for the Pathfinder, Posin said, Lim assumed her sister had taken it to the shop because she had asked her to.
Three weeks after Blackburn escaped, he fatally shot his wife and his daughters, Tiana, 5, and Tiara, 4, in the same instant that Metro SWAT officers burst into the motel room where they were hiding. He also fired a fatal bullet into his head as officers fired upon him.
Kim Smith covers courts for the Sun. She can be reached at (702) 455-4844 or by e-mail at [email protected]