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Witness describes shooting, 2009 death of Marcus Russell

on February 2, 2012

When the red van pulled alongside their driver’s side door, the long barrel of an assault rifle was jutting out the window – but it was quiet.

“They waited for a second, for Marcus to look up,” said a young woman seated at the witness stand, wearing a checkered jacket and a pained scowl.

“Did Marcus say anything?” asked Deputy District Attorney Derek Butts.

“He said ‘oh (expletive),’” she replied. “That’s when the shooting started.”

In the most explosive day of testimony in nearly three-week old trial, the prosecution’s key witness identified Joe Blacknell III as the man who shot her in the leg and killed her friend Marcus Russell as they drove a Nissan Maxima east on I-580 on March 10, 2009. The woman, whose has been relocated out-of-state for protection, testified for several hours Wednesday about the day that changed her life forever and ended the life of her 21-year-old friend, a rising East Bay rapper.

Blacknell, whom police allege is an Easter Hill Boys gang member who answers to the nickname “Fatter,” is alleged to have committed 22 felonies over two days of mayhem in 2009. Blacknell has pleaded not guilty.

The day was devoted to the prosecution’s star witness. She had attended a music industry photo shoot at Marina Bay with Russell minutes before the shooting. She was firm about being able to identify the shooter despite getting just a brief look.

“It was Fatter,” she said, pointing at Blacknell, who was seated next to his public defender, Diana Garrido.

“Is there any doubt?” Butts asked.

“No,” she said.

The witness turned emotional at one point. The courtroom, near empty for most of the trial, was packed with relatives and friends of Russell on Wednesday. The witness broke into tears when she described how the black assault rifle spit flames and at least 11 rounds downward into the car she rode in with Russell, causing them to careen off the highway and through a retaining fence.

“There was a bullet in his face, there was just blood everywhere,” she said.

But under Garrido’s cross-examination, the witness admitted that she had only seen Blacknell two previous times, several years before the shooting. She also testified that she had told police and family members for several months after the shooting that she did not see who was in the van or who fired the shots. The witness is currently in custody on firearms and assault charges, she revealed under cross examination.

“You saw (the shooter) for one to two seconds, maximum?” Garrido asked.

“Yes,” the witness said.

The witness also revealed under cross examination that she had previously identified another man, Steven “Willie” Mulder, an alleged Easter Hill Boys gangmember who answers to the name, “Scooter Doo,” as driving the van. Mulder was incarcerated at the time of Russell’s murder.

Blacknell is charged with the deadly shooting in March and a daylong crime spree that left four people seriously wounded in Oakland and Richmond on Sept. 13, 2009.

If convicted on all charges, Blacknell, 21, faces life in prison.

The trial is set to resume at 9 a.m. today.

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