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joe blacknell III

Despite intense interrogation, Blacknell’s story consistent

on February 15, 2012

The burly detective turned up the intensity, sometimes yelling in a bass-heavy bellow, cursing frequently. His partner chipped in some grim facts—she reminded the 18-year-old suspect about the prospects of a lifetime behind bars.

And it wasn’t just a tough-talk routine. The detectives feigned that they had evidence—DNA, surveillance and witnesses—solid as the iron bars at San Quentin.

But none of it had an effect. Joe Blacknell III never wavered in insisting he was innocent.

“I’m not worried about it because I didn’t do it,” Blacknell said, responding to another ruse from his police interrogator, Sgt. Michael Rood, this one suggesting that Marcus Russell, the man Blacknell is accused of killing, had fired his own gun. If the shooting was self-defense, the sergeant told Blacknell, it could “set you free.”

As the fourth week of the prosecution’s case against Blacknell began, attorneys on both sides continued dissecting several hours of black and white footage of an interrogation of Blacknell conducted at the Richmond Police Department on July 19, 2009. Deputy District Attorney Derek Butts has used the tape to show Blacknell’s subtle shifts, including saying at one point that he called his mother, while otherwise claiming that she was driving the car in which he was riding. Blacknell’s attorney noted her client’s consistent denials in the face of intense interrogation by skilled detectives who employed a range of ploys while probing the then-18-year-old’s story.

Blacknell is charged with 22 felonies, including the March 10, 2009 murder of Russell, and wounding three more people on September 13 of that same year. Blacknell, who turned 21 in January, has pleaded innocent to all charges. His attorney, public defender Diana Garrido, has said her client has alibis for his whereabouts during the crimes and that he is the target of a flawed prosecution, based mostly on inconsistent eyewitness testimony.

At least two witnesses, including a woman who wounded while riding in the car Russell was driving when he was killed, have identified Blacknell as being a participant in crimes on two separate days in 2009, March 10 and Sept. 13. But doubts have been raised regarding both witnesses’ credibility, including the woman’s changing her story at least twice before trial.

Rood testified Tuesday that he and his partner, Sgt. Stina Johanson, had cell phone records placing Blacknell at the scene of Russell’s killing, which occurred when a van pulled alongside his car as he was traveling east on I-580 just west of the Bayview exit. Rood, who has conducted more than 140 homicide investigations over the last decade, said that the cell phone records were legitimate, but during the interrogation he also used an array of ruses in a largely unsuccessful attempt to elicit information from Blacknell.

“It’s very rare that people come in and admit to a murder,” Rood testified in response to Garrido’s question about why he would use such tactics.

Throughout the taped interview that ran several hours—until past 2 a.m.—Blacknell was adamant that he had no involvement in Russell’s murder. Blacknell, an alleged member of the Easter Hill Boys gang who goes by the nickname “Fatter,” said he traveled between Oakland and Richmond the day of Russell’s murder with his mother, cousin and the mother of one of his children. Blacknell claims he was traveling from Oakland to Richmond around the time of Russell’s murder, an account prosecutors say is refuted by the cell phone records, which show that his phone was pinging off towers in a pattern that indicates he was traveling toward Oakland.

At one point during July 19 the interrogation, Rood printed out a fake lab report that purported to link Blacknell’s DNA to shell casings found at the scene of Russell’s murder.

“DNA don’t lie,” Rood told Blacknell in the interrogation video, dozens of clips from which have been shown to the jury. “You’ve seen CSI right? That’s some scientific shit.”

But again, Blacknell didn’t waver in proclaiming his innocence.

“I didn’t touch no gun. I didn’t load no gun,” Blacknell said.

If convicted, Blacknell faces life in prison. Testimony is set to resume Wednesday.

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