Blacknell defense opens case, focuses on science and inconsistent witnesses

Joe Blacknell, right, has pleaded innocent to 22 felony charges, including murder.

Joe Blacknell, right, has pleaded innocent to 22 felony charges, including murder.

On the first day of witness testimony for the defense, public defender Diana Garrido spent several hours focused on what may be the prosecution’s biggest weaknesses in its case against Joe Blacknell III: shaky witnesses and inconclusive scientific evidence.

The prosecution’s star witness, a woman shot and wounded while driving with murder victim Marcus Russell, told a detective on the day of the shooting – and Russell’s friend days later – that she ducked when gunfire erupted and could not identify who shot her and Russell from a van that pulled alongside their car, according to testimony by a family friend and a detective on Tuesday.

Additionally, an expert in the field of gunshot residue told the court that tests of Blacknell’s black hooded sweatshirt yielded results inconsistent with the prosecution’s accusation that he had been on a daylong crime spree September 13, 2009, a stretch that allegedly included firing dozens of rounds and being in close proximity of the firing of dozens more. Four particles of gunshot residue were found on Blacknells sweatshirt, an amount Garrido has said may have come been deposited when he was shot at by police during a foot chase.

“I would expect a very large number” of gunshot residue particles if Blacknell had fired multiple rounds, said James Norris, a forensic scientist called by the defense. “At least hundreds.”

Garrido also called to the stand Tuesday Richmond Police Detective Terry Miles; Lamonte Brewer, a friend of Russell’s; and Blacknell’s mother, Celeste Sipp.

Miles testified that he was among the first on the scene March 10, 2009, where Russell’s car had crashed off I-580 after he and his female passenger were shot. Russell died at the hospital. The woman survived a wound to her left leg.

Miles said the woman told him at the scene, and later at an area hospital, that she could not identify the shooter or the driver of the van that pulled alongside them.

“She said they both had dark complexions,” Miles said. Blacknell, who is one-quarter Irish, has a light complexion.

Brewer, who is incarcerated on drug charges, appeared in court in a yellow jail jumpsuit. Brewer said he called the female passenger two weeks after the shooting to find out who killed his friend.

“She said she ducked her head,” Miles said. “She didn’t know what was going on.”

The woman, who has been relocated out of state with the help of the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, testified in court weeks ago that Blacknell was the shooter. Her testimony followed more than a year of telling detectives and others that she did not know who the shooter was. She testified that she gave false information previously out of fear for her safety.

Sipp testified at the end of proceedings Tuesday that she has relocated twice from Richmond since Russell’s shooting out of fear for her safety. Sipp’s testimony will continue Wednesday, and she is expected to offer an alibi for Blacknell’s whereabouts during at least some of the 22 felonies with which he is charged.

Blacknell is charged with killing Russell March 10, 2009, and shooting and wounding four other people during a crime spree on September 13, 2009, allegedly motivated by a desire to avenge the 2006 murder of Sean “Shawny Bo” Melson, his childhood friend and a reputed Easter Hill Boys gangmember.

The trial is expected to move to jury deliberations on February 23.

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