Analysis of shell casings suggests a link between four killings in Oakland and Richmond and many of the 22 felonies for which Joe Blacknell III is on trial, Richmond Police Det. Christopher Llamas testified Thursday.
The revelation came after weeks of testimony in the closely-watched case. Blacknell, now 21, is charged with shooting and killing Marcus Russell on March 10, 2009 and wounding four people on September 13 that same year. Blacknell also faces more than a dozen other charges, including carjacking and weapons violations. The trial is one of the biggest murder cases in Richmond in years, with prosecutors and police saying Blacknell is an exceptionally violent and prolific gang member.
But Blacknell’s attorney, and his friends and family, say he has become a fall guy for a series of violent crimes he did not commit. Blacknell has pleaded not guilty to all charges. His attorney, Diana Garrido, says her client has alibis for his whereabouts and is the target of shaky prosecution desperate to get a conviction.
For the first time since the trial’s January 17 start, the jury heard testimony that toolmark experts in the county crime lab have matched .40 caliber casings expended at the September 13 crime scenes with four other homicides that occurred in the preceding days. September 13 “was just the continuation of the crime spree,” Llamas said, under questioning from Deputy District Attorney Derek Butts. Blacknell is not directly linked to the gun – which has not been recovered – that fired the .40 caliber casings, but evidence suggests that the same weapon was one of those used in other crimes Blacknell allegedly committed.
The handgun that was found near Blacknell when he was arrested discharged 9 mm casings that matched those found at some of the crime scenes on September 13, a toolmark expert testified earlier in the trial, but not the casings linked to the other four homicides. Prosecutors allege that Blacknell acted with accomplices during the commission of all of the crimes.
Llamas testified that he had reason to believe Blacknell and his crew— allegedly a violent subset of the Easter Hill Boys gang that dubbed themselves the “Beam Team” in reference to laser sightings on their guns—were involved in all the crimes, including those with which Blacknell has not been charged.
Testimony theorizing about other homicides was allowed only in the context of a scenario Butts sketched out for Llamas, which he was allowed to give his opinion on in his capacity as a gang expert. The court has recognized Llamas, a 9-year veteran of the force, as an expert on south Richmond gangs.
Llamas testified that officers found .40 caliber casings matching those in the September 13 shootings when investigating the murder of Sedric Gadson, 28, of Oakland, who was shot numerous times behind 1039 10th Street on September 9, 2009. Additionally, Llamas said a laser sighting that may have fallen from a gun barrel at the scene.
Llamas also testified that on September 10, 2009, Demario Lee, 20, of Richmond, was shot numerous times by at least four separate weapons—including the one firing the matching .40 caliber casings—in a dark stairwell of the Barrett Apartments in central Richmond.
On September 11, 2009, Alfred Thomas, 20, of Rodeo, and Kaneesha Mallard, 19, of Hercules were shot and killed around 9:30 p.m. at the 76 gas station at Imperial Avenue and Carlson Boulevard in Richmond. Matching .40 caliber casings were found there as well, Llamas confirmed.
Llamas testified that the killings were part of a crime spree embarked upon by Blacknell and his cohorts to commemorate the 3-year anniversary of the murder of Sean “Shawny Bo” Melson, 16, who was shot by central Richmond gang members on September 10, 2006.
During cross examination, Garrido chipped away at Llamas’ stature as a gang expert, forcing him to acknowledge that many of his theories, particularly about the alliance between Easter Hill Boys and North Richmond’s gangs, were based on information provided by former county sheriff’s gang experts. She also questioned some of the gang monikers that Llamas testified were used by certain alleged Easter Hill Boys gang members.
In earlier testimony, Llamas had based his assertion that North Richmond and Easter Hill were linked by “bloodlines.” To back this, Llamas said that brothers Brian Jones and Vincent “V.I.” Jones, both now-incarcerated gang members, represented North Richmond and Easter Hill, respectively. Llamas said Blacknell is the Jones brothers’ younger cousin.
But, when pressed, Llamas said he could not be sure they were brothers, and that he had only heard so from senior detectives and possibly read it in a report.
Garrido also noted that a man Llamas had identified as an active Easter Hill Boys gang member was a collegiate track athlete training for the Olympics.
“I am only aware of his criminal activities,” Llamas said, later acknowledging that those alleged activities included driving with a friend who was carrying a weapon, but no criminal convictions of his own.
At one point, Garrido read a quote from Police Chief Chris Magnus, who told the press in July 2011 that he is hesitant to call Richmond’s factions “gangs” and that the situation does not “lend itself to [gang] injunctions.”
“Do you disagree with your chief?” Garrido asked.
“I do completely disagree,” Llamas said, adding, “I don’t believe that Chief Magnus is qualified as a gang expert.”
Butts spent much of the morning airing seized excerpts of Blacknell’s electronic communications and jailhouse writings. From a Myspace.com account prosecutors allege was Blacknell’s, messages were sprayed out to other people’s accounts, featuring violent, misspelled taunts rendered in violent metaphor. Garrido noted that others had access to Blacknell’s account, a fact attested to by its activity during his periods of incarceration.
“Test me, I got a mac that I wanna try out again,” someone using Blacknell’s account wrote to an unknown recipient on November 3, 2008. In September that same year, he allegedly sent out this message: “I always ride wit my choppah.” Llamas testified that ‘mac’ refers to a Mac-10 or Mac-11 semi-automatic weapon, and that a “choppah” is an AK-47 style assault rifle.
Someone using Blacknell’s account also wrote a lengthy message to the Myspace account of Melson, his slain childhood friend and alleged fellow Easter Hill Boys gang member. The message was dated May 27, 2009. “What’s up Bo? Nigga you already know. Niggas still trippin over u … I miss u.” The message went on to say that Blacknell had just returned from visiting Melson’s grave. “I love you,” the message read, along with “Ima keep it lit 4 u.”
“Keep it lit,” Llamas said, amounts to continuing violence in Melson’s memory.
“One of the main purposes of this gang is retaliation in the death of Shawny Bo,” Llamas said.
At one point, Butts forced Blacknell to show his forearm tattoos to the jury, including an “R.I.P. Shawny Bo” piece on the inside of his right forearm.
If convicted on all charges, Blacknell faces life in prison. Testimony is set to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.