April 9, 2012

After Fleeing, City Resident Fights Charges

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About one year ago, outside the Elks Club on Green Street in downtown Ithaca, 22-year-old Jamel Booker allegedly pulled out a long silver revolver as he got to his feet. He had just been punched and knocked to the ground by Russell “Poon” Blackman, who reportedly incensed Booker by dancing with certain women in the club.

A friend of Booker’s, who is unidentified in court papers, apparently urged him to strike back.

“Kill the motherfuckers! Kill the motherfuckers! Give me the gun; I will do it,” the man reportedly bellowed.

According to the prosecution, Booker relented to this demand. On April 8, 2011, they say, Booker shot Blackman multiple times in the torso, and one bullet grazed Blackman’s face. Police say Booker later fled to Florida, where he remained until February 2012, when he was caught by Ithaca Police.

Blackman survived, but Tompkins County District Attorney is charging Booker, who is known as “Mel,” with attempted murder, assault and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon.

Booker has since responded to the allegations. In a defense brief filed March 30 in Tompkins County Court, his attorney decried what he called the prosecution’s “inadmissible and incompetent” attempts to build a case against his client.

Thomas Kheel, Booker’s lawyer, emphasizes in the documents that Booker was never found with a weapon. Kheel says Booker will contest all the charges against him.

“No weapons were ever found linking the defendant to the crime,” Kheel writes. “The evidence presented to the Grand Jury was legally insufficient to establish that [Booker] committed the offenses charged in the indictment.”

Moreover, Kheel claims that the witness accounts used to connect Booker to the crime may have been unfairly solicited.

“The identifications of [Kheel] are equivocal and were suggested to the testifying witnesses,” Kheel says.

Documents obtained by The Sun may indicate that Kheel was correct to assume that police were looking for evidence to validate their assumptions.

According to an account provided by one Ithaca Police Department officer whose name has been redacted, Brittany Green was a friend of Blackman’s who was with him the night of the shooting. When the officer arrived at the hospital where Blackman was being treated, Green said she was willing to discuss the event further, according to the police report.

However, when presented with several photo arrays of potential suspects, Green “stated she was unable to identify anyone within.”

“As Green viewed the arrays, I sensed that she could identify the responsible party, but did not want to become involved,” the officer states — an assessment Kheel and Booker may contest in court.

An account provided by Ronald McClure, who says he saw the shooting, also suggests police may have, as Kheel alleges, suggested who the assailant was to witnesses.

Police asked McClure if Booker was “the same person who is in your math class at [Tompkins Community College] and the same person who you saw shoot Russell.” Still, McClure did, apparently unprompted, pick Booker out of a photo array.

Unlikely to help Kheel’s argument, however, is Booker’s apparent attempt to escape arrest.

After a Tompkins County Grand Jury indicted Booker in June 2011, he “fled” to Florida, according to Ithaca Police.

“Information was established that following the indictment Booker had fled to Florida, where he went into hiding to avoid apprehension,” police stated in a press release at the time of his arrest.

On Feb. 8, police were notified that Booker was in the Ithaca area. A team of investigators and officers then entered a local hotel in which Booker was staying and took him into custody without incident.

The prosecution also notes that this was Booker’s 13th arrest. In addition to the arrests, Booker has has two youthful offender adjudications, one misdemeanor conviction, five “violation-level convictions” and one bench warrant on his record, according to the documents.

The identity of the man who told Booker to shoot does not appear in court documents. Green, however, told police that he was a 6’0” “light skinned” black man with “pulled back” braids. McClure, the other witness, also describes the man as a “light skinned black male with braids.”

Original Author: Jeff Stein