Joe Blacknell III was found guilty Thursday of 20 felony counts, including the first degree murder of Marcus Russell in 2009.
Jurors reached their decision after more than eight days of deliberations.
Blacknell, 21, was convicted on 20 out of 22 felonies with which he was charged.
He was found not guilty on two counts of attempted murder stemming from the September 13, 2009, shooting of Elliot Lawson and Devonte Bernstein, who were wounded in a drive-by shooting at the Pullman Apartment Complex in Richmond.
The other 20 counts were related to two days of crimes in 2009. Blacknell was convicted of shooting and killing Russell, age 21, who was driving east on I-580 near the Bayview exit with a female passenger on March 10, 2009 when his car was riddled with at least 11 bullets fired from a van that pulled alongside. Blacknell was convicted of being the shooter seated in the passenger side of the van.
Seventeen of the counts were related to a daylong crime spree September 13, 2009, which left four others wounded in Oakland and Richmond.
Most of the counts, which included attempted murder, carjacking, robbery, street terrorism and exhibiting a gun at a police officer, were paired with gun and gang enhancements. Blacknell was accused of having committed the crimes to benefit of the Easter Hill Boys, a South Richmond gang. Blacknell’s convictions include that he was a member of the gang.
More than 30 people—and seven armed bailiffs—packed the courtroom during the verdict reading, which took nearly one hour. Blacknell’s mother, Celeste Sipp, and father, Joe Blacknell Sr., were in attendance, along with their four younger children.
The younger Blacknell sat silent during the proceedings, wearing a navy sweater with white stripes and a collared shirt. He answered “yeah” when asked by Deputy District Attorney Derek Butts if he would waive his right to be sentenced within 20 days.
When the verdict was read the courtroom erupted in screams and shouts. One of Blacknell’s teenage sisters burst into tears and yelled “Free my brother!” before stomping from the courtroom. Tears streamed down Blacknell’s mother’s face.
Outside the courthouse, Blacknell’s father said he was in disbelief. “They railroaded my son in there,” Blacknell Sr. said. “I expected him to be coming home.”
Russell’s mother, Faith Russell, and sister Ashley Russell, were present with numerous other family members. Faith Russell, who dabbed at her eyes with tissues during the reading of the verdict, left the chambers surrounded by family and friends.
Butts, who called more than 50 witnesses in prosecuting the state’s case, left the Contra Costa Superior Court house after conversing with Russell’s family.
Richmond Police Detective Augustine Vegas, who conducted much of the investigation into Russell’s death, sat in the audience. After the conviction, Vegas said: “I like to see the process through from front to back. There’s still so much work to do, a lot of people lost their lives to violence in 2009.” Vegas indicated he was pleased with the verdict.
Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus, in a telephone interview late Thursday, said the conviction was a credit to intense, data-driven investigation by dozens of Richmond officers and detectives and a close working relationship with the District Attorney’s Office.
“Blacknell was one of those individuals who was a common denominator in an awful lot of violent crime, a lot of retaliatory crimes that were devastating to the community,” Magnus said.
“He did a lot [of crime], a lot we can’t even prove,” Magnus added. “The fact that he is going to do serious prison time makes this a safer community, but at the same time it’s very depressing that he got into this so young.”
Ballistics evidence forged a possible link between Blacknell and several other murders in the days before September 13, according to testimony during the trial, but the evidence wasn’t strong enough to bring other charges against Blacknell. Butts alleged the crime spree was motivated by a desire to avenge the murder of Sean “Shawny Bo” Melson, Blacknell’s childhood friend who was killed in North Richmond September 10, 2006.
None of Blacknell’s accomplices—witnesses reported seeing three to four men at many of the crime scenes—have been identified or brought up on charges.
A hearing to decide when sentencing will take place is scheduled for March 22. Blacknell could receive life in prison.