From reporter Nathan McIntire:
BURBANK – Emotions boiled over in a courtroom Tuesday as a jury found Monrovia cousins Nickelis and Rayshawn Blackwell guilty of gunning down 16-year-old Sammantha Salas in a hail of machine gun fire two years ago.
Several of the Blackwells’ relatives and friends let out wailing cries before storming out of the Burbank courtroom as a clerk announced guilty verdicts on eight counts against the two, including first-degree murder and attempted murder.
“A murder case where a 16-year-old is killed is up there with one of the most heinous crimes you can have,” Deputy District Attorney Joe Porras said after the verdicts. “To get justice in a case like this is satisfying to the victims, to the victims’ families and the community.”
The Blackwells each now face five terms of life in prison. They are scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 24, Porras said.
Salas’ mother, Jeanette Chavez, said the verdicts were “beyond relief.”
“The bottom line — it’s justice for Sammantha,” Chavez said. “I know she’s proud of us, because we worked really hard. Seeing these guys off the street so they won’t harm another family — that was the bottom line.”
The cousins stared straight ahead as the verdicts were read. But Nickelis Blackwell unleashed a tirade of expletives as deputies led him away in handcuffs.
Rayshawn Blackwell looked back into the audience, smiled and said, “It’s all right. We’ll be back.”
Nickelis’ attorney, Thomas White, said his client was upset at the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison.
“They’re looking at several hundred years, and no one on this earth will be alive to see them get out of custody,” said Geoffrey Pope, Rayshawn Blackwell’s attorney.
Salas was gunned down as she walked with two friends in the 2500 block of Peck Road in an unincorporated county area near Monrovia on Jan. 26, 2008. One of her friends, a teenage girl, was severely wounded but recovered. A second friend ran away and escaped injury.
Detectives said the teens were caught up in a string of retaliatory gang shootings in Monrovia, Duarte and unincorporated Los Angeles County in late 2007 and early 2008 that left four people dead and several others wounded.
Salas and the wounded teen were not involved in gangs, detectives said.
Prosecutors told jurors the Blackwells were distraught the night of the shooting, after attending the funeral of their uncle. Sanders Rollins, 64, was gunned down 12 days earlier by members of Monrovia Nuevo Varrio, a Latino gang.
The Blackwells are members of the primarily black Duroc Crips, Porras told jurors during the trial.
Jurors also convicted the Blackwells of attempted murder for a Jan. 14, 2008, shooting that targeted the father of a man now charged in Rollins’ murder.
The Rollins case has yet to go to trial.