From reporter Alfred Lee:
In a taped interview, a friend of two cousins charged in the January 2008 murder of 16-year-old Sammantha Salas told detectives the cousins wanted “to send a message” to avenge the death of their uncle, who had been recently killed by Latino gang members.
On the recording, which was played in court Tuesday, Douglas Ross first identifies himself by name. He then goes on to tell detectives that Nickelis Blackwell, 22, and Rayshawn Blackwell, 26, had gathered with friends and relatives at the Blackwell’s Sherman Avenue home in Monrovia on the night of Jan. 26, 2008, following the funeral of the Blackwells’ uncle.
Authorities believe the uncle, 64-year-old Sanders Rollins, was shot to death on his porch by a Latino gang member 13 days before.
“What was on everybody’s mind was revenge,” Ross said on the tape played for the judge at a preliminary hearing for the Blackwell cousins in Alhambra Court.
He also described to investigators how he saw the Blackwells carry a duffel bag stuffed with an Uzi and other firearms into a green Camry and drive off on the night Salas was shot in unincorporated Monrovia.
However, Ross claimed in court Tuesday that “only parts” of the tape were actually his voice. He denied incriminating the Blackwells, saying he had known the cousins “practically my whole life.”
When the cousins returned home at about 12:30 a.m. that night, Nickelis said, “I killed her,” and looked “distraught,” while Rayshawn consoled him, Ross allegedly said on the tape.
Geoffrey Pope, Rayshawn Blackwell’s attorney, declined to comment on the case.
Testimony in the hearing is scheduled to continue today.cq Upon its conclusion, Judge Laura Priver cqwill rule whether prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to hold the Blackwells for trial.
Authorities have said Salas was not involved in gangs.
But 18-year-old Jenifer Mandi, who was shot along with Salas that night, testified that a third friend they were walking with at the time of the shooting, Abraham Ramos, was affiliated with a local gang, Monrovia Nuevo Varrio.
“He just hangs around with them,” Mandi testified.
Mandi, Salas, Ramos and a few other friends had been drinking beer in an apartment complex on the 2500 block of Peck Road the night of the shooting, when the three decided to walk to a neighborhood store. Mandi and Ramos had also been smoking marijuana, she said.
As soon as the group walked out the front gates of the apartment complex, Ramos looked back and began running. Mandi and Salas froze, she testified.
“We were just standing there, thinking, ‘What do we do?'” Mandi testified. Then, “I heard people say, ‘Stop running!'” she said.
Mandi turned around to see two men in hooded sweat shirts standing about 25 feet away with their guns pointed. The men were dressed head to toe in black and were wearing black bandanas that covered their faces, she testified.
“We couldn’t even taken a step and they started shooting,” she said.
Mandi testified she felt “a really big burn” from a bullet that hit her in her right hip, went “across my stomach” and ended up in her left thigh. She recovered at a hospital after being unconscious for 11 days.
She remembered seeing Salas fall a few feet from her.
“She was laying right next to me,” she said. “When I first looked at her, I didn’t see any (blood).”
Mandi testified that the eyes of her shooter that night looked similar to those of Rayshawn Blackwell.
“I just remember the eyes,” she said. “They just looked so angry.”