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Firearm expert links ammunition at various crime scenes in Blacknell case

on January 31, 2012

The gun found near Joe Blacknell III during his September 2009 capture was almost certainly the same Smith & Wesson 9 mm that fired more than two dozen rounds at crime scenes in Oakland and Richmond, a firearms and ammunitions identification expert testified Monday.

“It’s our conclusion that it is a practical impossibility that any other firearms made the marks,” said John Murdock, a nationally recognized expert in toolmark identification.

Blacknell, age 21, is an alleged Richmond gang member accused of committing 22 felonies in 2009, including the murder of rap artist Marcus Russell and six counts of attempted murder. All of the crimes occurred on two days, six months apart. Blacknell has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, public defender Diana Garrido, has said her client has alibis accounting for his whereabouts and that the prosecution’s case is rife with hearsay and shaky forensic evidence.

Murdock, who has worked more than 40 years in ballistics and toolmarks with Contra Costa County and the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, now works as a contract expert examining firearm evidence, mostly with the Richmond Police Department.

Murdock’s testimony began last week and absorbed most of the day Monday. Murdock showed the jury a chart linking five guns and dozens of spent shell casings to six separate crime scenes, including the house on Hoffman Street where Blacknell was arrested after a short pursuit on Sept. 13, 2009. In response to questions from Deputy District Attorney Derek Butts, Murdock testified that studies that had shown an accuracy rate of better than 99 percent in toolmark identification matching casings with firearms.

But under cross examination, Garrido noted that toolmark identification had been under scrutiny, most critically from the National Academy of Sciences.

Murdock said that unlike DNA identification, which has been deemed conclusive by the academy, toolmark identification lacks a statistical foundation and cannot mathematically exclude other firearms from discharging shell casings.

“We cannot identify toolmarks to the exclusion of all others, that would be an impossibility,” Murdock said.

The day concluded with testimony from a Richmond woman who witnessed the murder of 21-year-old Marcus Russell, who was shot and killed while driving a Nissan Maxima east on I-580.

The woman testified that she was in the far left lane just before the Bayview Avenue exit when she saw a full-size, older model Chevrolet van pull alongside the Maxima.

“I heard the pops, and then I saw the Maxima swerve off the road into the bushes,” the woman testified. “I slowed down because I didn’t want to see anyone who was in the van.”

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