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Gunshot residue found on sweater of alleged Richmond shooter

on January 26, 2012

The black-hooded sweatshirt Joe Blacknell III wore on the day he allegedly shot four people and missed two others had minute traces of gunshot residue on it, but not enough to definitively conclude that he fired a gun, a Los Angeles County criminalist testified Wednesday at Contra Costa Superior Court in Martinez.

Blacknell is an alleged Richmond gang member accused of committing 22 felonies in 2009, including the murder of rap artist Marcus Russell.

Margaret Kaleuaty, an expert in gunshot residue science, testified that the black hooded sweatshirt Blacknell was wearing on the night of his September 13, 2009 arrest carried four microscopic particles characteristic of discharge from a firearm.

“What does that say about the black hoodie?” asked Deputy District Attorney Derek Butts.

“That this may have been in the area of gunshot discharge,” Kaleuaty said, adding later that the findings do not “necessarily” lead to a conclusion that Blacknell fired any weapons.

Kaleuaty, in response to further questions from Butts, said that it was plausible that a suspect who fired more than two dozen rounds in the late morning and early afternoon, as prosecutors believe Blacknell had done, would have particle evidence like that found on Blacknell’s sweater.

“Would what you found be consistent with that fact pattern,” Butts said after recounting the timeline of the shootings Blacknell is accused of having carried out that day.

“Yes,” Kaleuaty said.

Under cross examination from Blacknell’s public defender, Diana Garrido, Kaleuaty said that the minute amount of residue could also be a result of having been shot at from close range. Blacknell dodged five shots fired at him by two Richmond police officers during a foot pursuit at Cutting Boulevard and 18th Street shortly before his capture. Officers said Blacknell pointed a handgun at them, and a gun was recovered on a rooftop where Blacknell was apprehended that night.

“After a day of firing dozens of times, being in close proximity to other shooters, holding a firearm, being in police contact, and being shot at five times, wouldn’t you expect someone to be covered with hundreds, even thousands of particles?” Garrido asked.

“There’s a possibility, yes,” Kaleuaty said, adding that innumerable variables were at work, including wind conditions and contact between the sweatshirt and other objects.

Wednesday marked the sixth day of testimony since the trial’s January 17 start. Blacknell, age 21, is alleged to have committed a slew of crimes on March 10 and Sept. 13, 2009, in an effort to exact revenge on rival neighborhoods and enhance his stature within the Easter Hill Boys, a south Richmond gang. Blacknell is also accused of shooting and killing Russell and a female passenger as they drove on I-580 six months earlier. The trial is one of the most anticipated in Richmond in recent years, as police and prosecutors have characterized Blacknell as a particularly violent offender whose presence wrought havoc in the city. The District Attorney’s Office is expected to call more than 50 witnesses, including experts like Kaleuaty, who was flown in and lodged at county expense.

Blacknell has pleaded not guilty. Garrido has said her client has alibis for his whereabouts and is the target of a prosecution that’s banking on unreliable witnesses and shaky forensic science.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Thursday. Blacknell faces life in prison if convicted on all charges.

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