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Richmond man accused of ’09 crime spree set to face trial

on January 6, 2012

Opening statements are set to begin next week in the case of a Richmond man who faces at least 22 felony charges stemming from a crime spree that rocked the city more than two years ago.

Joe Blacknell III, age 20, is accused of a slew of crimes committed in the spring and summer of 2009, including the murder of Marcus Russell, a 21-year-old rap artist who was shot and killed as he drove west on I-580 on a weekday afternoon. Blacknell also faces six counts of attempted murder, carjacking, firearms and street terrorism charges, crimes he allegedly committed between March and September of 2009, according to court records.

Opening statements are scheduled for Jan. 17 in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez. The trial is expected to last several weeks.

Blacknell has been in custody since Sept. 13, 2009, when he was arrested after a brief pursuit and gunfight with Richmond police. Blacknell jumped from a stolen car in the 1800 block of Cutting Boulevard and fled on foot exchanging gunfire with two officers during the subsequent foot pursuit, according to police. Blacknell was nabbed on a rooftop soon after, with the aid of a police dog. Neither he nor police were injured.

Blacknell’s attorney, public defender Diana Garrido, said the case against her client is weak and based on forensic examination of firearms and cartridge cases and “aggregating the evidence” to prejudice jurors against Blacknell.

“It is undisputed that Mr. Blacknell never fired at any police officers,” Garrido wrote in an email. “Rather, two police officers fired several shots at Mr. Blacknell, who fortunately was not struck by their gunfire.”

Blacknell is also accused of shooting and wounding four people in three separate incidents, according to the District Attorney’s office’s case, including a young woman who was a passenger in Russell’s car.

Police say Blacknell is a known member of the “Easter Hill Boys,” which they categorize as a south Richmond gang.

“We believe [Blacknell] is a very dangerous individual, and we’re glad he’s off the street,” said Lt. Bisa French. “Beyond that, the case is with the District Attorney’s office now.”

If convicted of Russell’s murder, Blacknell faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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