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Blacknell sentenced to life without parole for 2009 crime spree

on May 18, 2012

Joe “Fatter” Blacknell III was sentenced to life in prison plus more than 200 years without possibility of parole for the March 2009 murder of an up-and-coming East Bay rap artist and a September 2009 shooting and carjacking spree in Richmond and Oakland.

Blacknell, now 21, was arrested after a brief foot pursuit with Richmond Police at the tail-end of the September 2009 crime spree. He was 18 at the time, and police and District Attorney Office officials say he had built a fearsome reputation as a brutal enforcer for the Easter Hill Boys gang.

“The defendant is an exceptionally violent individual who brags about killing people,” Deputy District Attorney Derek Butts told the court Thursday during Blacknell’s sentencing hearing. “The level of violence here is almost incomprehensible.”

Blacknell was convicted in March of 20 felonies, including the murder of Marcus Russell, 21, who was shot and killed while driving on I-580. A female passenger who was wounded in the shooting identified Blacknell as the shooter.

Six months after Russell’s murder, Blacknell and unknown accomplices went on a shooting and carjacking spree that left at least three people wounded, Butts said. The crime spree marked the three-year anniversary of the murder of Blacknell’s childhood friend, Sean “Shawny Bo” Melson, Butts said during the trial.

More than 40 people packed the courtroom Thursday, mostly Blacknell’s friends and family members. Several members of Russell’s family were also present, including his mother, Faith Russell.

“I’m relieved it’s over, but there are no winners here today,” Faith Russell said outside the courtroom. “[Blacknell’s] mother lost her son to the prison system, and my son lost his life.”

Blacknell’s attorney, public defender Diana Garrido, argued that a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for such a young offender would violate the Constitutional provision against cruel and unusual punishment.

Judge Thomas M. Maddock disagreed. “The high degrees of violence and viciousness” that marked at least five separate shootings, along with the wanton disregard for public safety warranted the stiff sentence, Maddock said. Maddock noted that some of the victims subjected to the “hails of gunfire” Blacknell unleashed were innocent people who had no affiliation with Richmond’s neighborhood feuds.

Among the victims in the September 2009 spree was a 30-year-old man wounded when 29 rounds were fired into his car as he sat at a stoplight with his 10-year-old niece in Oakland. The niece “miraculously” avoided being hit in what was a case of mistaken identity, Butts said.

At least six friends and family of Blacknell’s addressed the court, pleading for leniency.

“We know the real Joe, we know his heart,” said Courtney Sipp, Blacknell’s aunt. “He’s not a monster, he’s a loving person.”

Blacknell has three small children, all of whom were in the courtroom.

Ashley Russell, Marcus Russell’s sister, was the only member of a victim’s family to speak. She said her brother’s death left a void in the family, and left his young daughter without a father. “Marcus was the only man in our immediate family,” Russell said. “We will never be able to say ‘I love you.’”

Thursday’s sentencing drew an unusually heavy presence from law enforcement. At least 10 Sheriff’s deputies ringed the courtroom, and several Richmond police officers and detectives were on hand. Richmond police briefly questioned two men and made them leave the courtroom because they were known gang associates of Blacknell, officers said.

A life sentence for Blacknell “sends a message to the community that the sentences [for violent crime] are harsh, and they are just,” Butts told the court.

Blacknell said in a jailhouse interview in April that he plans to appeal his conviction.

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