General Crime

* Joseph Blacknell III Faces 22 Felony Counts for Several Carjackings and Shootings in Richmond

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Nearly three years after a murder and crime spree that rattled Richmond — leaving one man dead and wounding seven others — the trial against the man charged with those crimes began in Martinez this morning. Attorneys delivered opening statements in the trial against 21-year-old Richmond man Joseph Blacknell III, who faces 22 felony counts for several carjackings and shootings in the spring and summer of 2009, including the fatal drive-by shooting of rap artist Marcus Russell, 21.

Deputy District Attorney Derek Butts told the jury today that Blacknell is a known member of south Richmond’s Easter Hill Boys gang who gunned down Russell, a rival gang member as he drove along eastbound Interstate Highway 580 the afternoon of March 10, 2009.

Blacknell, also known by his street name “Fatter”, used a long-gun to shoot 11 rounds of ammunition into Russell’s car, killing the 21-year-old and shooting his girlfriend, who was sitting in the passenger seat, in the leg, according to police. The girlfriend, who survived, later identified Blacknell as the shooter, and described to police how he waited for Russell to turn his head and recognize his assailant before firing the fatal shots, Butts said. Police have so far been unable to identify any other suspects inside the van from which Blacknell fired at his victim that day, Butts said.

On Sept. 13, 2009, Blacknell struck again, this time wounding six victims in four separate shootings, Butts said. “In a minor miracle, of the six people in the line of fire that day, only four were hit, and of those four nobody died,” Butts told the jury. That night, police found and pursued Blacknell, firing at him during the chase, before arresting him and booking him into a county detention facility, where he remains in custody today, prosecutors said.

Defense attorney Diana Garrido painted a different picture of Blacknell, and said that while “he is no angel” and has a history of owning guns, there is no evidence that he committed the crimes for which he is accused. She told jurors that Russell’s girlfriend, the key witness in the murder case, only identified Blacknell as the shooter days after the killing after others in the community started speculating that she was involved in Russell’s death. “She has every reason to implicate someone else,” Garrido said. “She is not reliable and a perfect example of a square peg.” That witness is set to testify during the trial, Butts said. In addition, Garrido told the jury that the witness who identified Blacknell as the shooter in the four Sept. 13 shootings is also unreliable and has been refuted by others who were at the scene of the shootings who told police they did not recognize Blacknell as having been there that day.

Attorneys said the trial is expected to last for the next few weeks.

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