By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Family members of a murder victim became visibly upset Monday after photo exhibits showing the deceased were displayed during the ongoing first-degree murder trial of Russell Lee Blackwood, 41.
The photos were displayed during the testimony and cross examination of OSBI Agent Marvin Akers, who was assigned to the case after Lexington Police requested OSBI’s assistance with the investigation.
Lead prosecutor Jennifer Austin used the photos to question Akers about his investigation of the incident in which Blackwood and another Purcell man, 38-year-old Richard Dean Lansdale, are accused of killing Gary Norton Sr., 55, of Lexington, during a drive-by shooting early Easter morning 2012.
Some photos displayed Monday showed Norton lying deceased in his bed in his Lexington home. Others showed where investigators marked what they believed to be bullet holes, or bullet defects, from the shooting.
Photos displayed showed one of the bullet defects marked had traveled through Norton’s bedroom window. Norton died from a gunshot wound to the head.
Other bullet defects marked were on the same side of the house as Norton’s bedroom, and some were found on the roof of the home. Akers testified that the bullets traveled through the home as far as a bedroom located on the other side of Norton’s room. The only thing separating the two rooms was closet space, a diagram presented Monday depicted.
Several names came up during the course of the agent’s testimony, some whom he interviewed and some whom he had little contact with but received evidence or information from. Those included:
· Josh Norton, the murder victim’s son, who was the second person Akers interviewed during the investigation. The first person he talked to was Norton’s girlfriend at the time, Tonya Pittman. Both Norton and Pittman lived at the home with Norton Sr., but neither were home when the drive-by shooting occurred.
· Tonya Pittman, who was at the home when Lexington police arrived, told police and Akers what she saw upon entering the home Easter morning. She said Norton left the home after finding out his father was dead. Testimonies throughout the course of the trial determined that the two did not know when they found Norton Sr. that his death was a result of a gunshot wound.
· Shannon Davis, who was Blackwood’s girlfriend at the time, is the mother of Blackwood’s and Norton’s children. She is also Norton’s ex-wife. Her name was brought to the attention of Agent Akers after speaking with Norton.
Norton previously testified that he went over to Davis’ home the night before the incident because she said she was going to harm herself, but upon arrival she found no signs of an emergency.
Norton said after he left, Blackwood called Norton Sr.’s phone and said Davis was filing charges with police for forcing himself upon her, which Norton denied. He also testified that Blackwood said he was a “dead man walking.”
Akers testified Monday that when he interviewed Davis, she had no information of evidential value except for a pair of pants she gave him that she said were Blackwood’s.
Davis gave part of a testimony Friday before she was jailed for five days in direct contempt of court. Davis was given repeated warnings to avoid drama and just answer questions before she was arrested out of the view of the jury panel.
· Monica Henry, Blackwood’s ex-girlfriend, was contacted by Akers during the investigation because Akers testified that he had previously known Henry and knew she had been in a dating relationship with Blackwood. Upon contact, Akers said Henry told him she had seen Blackwood and had shell casings from a 9 millimeter gun, the same type of gun used during the shooting.
In her testimony Friday, Henry said she was with Blackwood on Easter Sunday and saw Lansdale take a gun out of his car and give it to Blackwood. The gun was taken to her home and given to her father, she said.
When Akers was questioned by lead defense attorney Charles Douglas, Akers said he had not asked Henry about the weapon and was unaware that she saw Lansdale hand Blackwood a gun on Easter Sunday.
· Samantha Taitano, a witness who testified Monday, was interviewed by Akers after a McClain County deputy told Akers he should talk to her.
Akers said during the interview that Taitano may not have directly said she was scared of the two men during the incident, which involved her dumping evidence into Purcell Lake, but based on the interview, her demeanor and the evidence, he believed she was in fear for her own well-being. Therefore, he only saw her as a witness and not a participant in the crime, he said.
“She felt horrible,” Akers said. “She didn’t know someone died.”
Taitano’s testimony: When Taitano was cross-examined on Monday, she said she called Blackwood the night before Easter Sunday because she wanted to get high, and that’s what they all did. They drove down the back roads of Purcell smoking meth, she said.
During that time, Davis called Blackwood, at which point Taitano said she learned he was upset with Josh Norton. Before that, a gun had already come out and Blackwood was shooting signs with it, she said.
She testified that although she was high, she knew that they were going to scare Norton, she knew that plan involved a gun, that Blackwood was mad about what Norton did to Davis and Blackwood wanted to teach him a lesson.
“Nobody went over there to hurt anybody,” she said, adding that they just wanted to scare someone.
Taitano said they drove by Norton’s house in Lexington a few times and, before driving down the alleyway past the back of the house, she was given earplugs and was told it was going to get loud. Blackwood handed her the gun and she passed it to Lansdale, she said.
Taitano said Blackwood pulled her head down into his lap and when Lansdale fired the gun while driving, she could feel hot shell casings hitting her back. She said at the time, she thought they were just going to shoot the truck. She did not know the house would be shot.
“Whatever we were doing at that time, I just wanted to do it and go,” Taitano said, adding that she thought they were going to continue to get high afterward, which is all she wanted to do.
After leaving the scene, they drove to Purcell Lake, where all of them picked 18 shell casings out of the car and she threw them into the lake along with Lansdale’s shirt and gloves, she said. They then wiped down the car with baby wipes that were in the back seat of the car.
When asked if the shooting was planned, she said “yes.” She testified that her participation in the incident involved handing the gun over to Lansdale and throwing evidence in the lake. When Douglas asked her what his client, Blackwood, did that she didn’t do, she replied, “I don’t know.”
Taitano has not been charged with anything in relation to the case. She testified Monday that since April 2012, she had been getting sober in rehab. She has since completed rehab and been sober after about 15 years of methamphetamine use.
“Your life’s been pretty good since April 16, hasn’t it?” Douglas said, alluding to the fact that after she was interviewed by Akers on April 16, 2012, she detoxed at a hospital for a week and then went into rehab for her drug addiction.
Testimonies will continue at 9 a.m. today in District Judge Tracy Schumacher’s courtroom.
Other Monday proceedings: Potential jurors were being interviewed Monday afternoon in the kidnapping and robbery trial for Ryan Patrick Noe, 35, of Blanchard.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Norman police said the victim was kidnapped and robbed in Norman and was set free in McClain County.
The man told police he was robbed of money, and his Ford pickup was stolen by the subjects when he was kidnapped, the affidavit states.
Presiding in the case is Judge Glenn Adams, a retired Court of Civil Appeals judge. Adams was asked to hear the case after District Judge Tom Lucas retired this summer.
Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to name a replacement judge in the next few weeks.
More motions were filed in a third-degree arson case Monday that is going to trial. District Judge Lori Walkley’s office said the jurors will return this morning around 9.