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Murder trial hinges on security-store video

A lengthy courtroom battle Thursday during Eric Blackmon’s murder trial ended in the prosecution’s favor, and with an immediate payoff:

Several security-camera videos appear to show the defendant walking into an east Charlotte store around the same time as the man he is accused of killing.

Miguel Corado was shot and robbed May 15, 2011, while sitting on his car trunk talking to a friend. Blackmon, 27, was arrested in connection with the killing. So was Kenneth Ravenell, 25, after he later contacted police to talk about the crime. Ravenell’s case is pending. If convicted, Blackmon faces life in prison without parole.

Assistant District Attorneys David Kelly and Tim Sielaff say Blackmon and Ravenell were hunting someone to rob two years ago and came across Corado in Charlotte Check Cashers on Central Avenue as he was paying his phone bill. The prosecutors say the pair then followed their victim to nearby Wembley Drive, where they shot and robbed him.

A day and a half into their case, however, prosecutors had not put Blackmon at the crime scene. That was to be the job of the store videos, which Kelly had promised would tie together Corado and his killers.

For much of the day, defense attorney Dean Loven fought to block the jury from seeing the footage. The fact that the videos were downloaded by the company’s owner, then burned onto a DVD and presented in court by another store official, raised fears of alteration and tampering, Loven argued.

Loven also noted that the time shown on the videos were later than Corado’s killing, raising further doubts.

“Someone else prepared the video. We don’t know what happened to it. Someone else made editorial decisions. That person is not here,” Loven said. “We have a significant enough break here to question its authenticity.”

The prosecution countered. Reza Moghaddam, the former IT manager at Check Cashers who burned the DVD, said the company’s computers had safeguards that don’t allow tampering with downloaded videos. He said the “time stamp” on the footage might be a few minutes slower or faster than the actual hour, but never much more than that.

The debate ran into the afternoon before Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson made his ruling: Selecting a video segment from a particular time does not amount to editing or altering it, he said. If there were evidence of tampering, “I would exclude it. Nevertheless, it’s going to come in.”

The ruling was a key one for the prosecution and defense. Up to that point, the state hadn’t identified a shooter. The earlier witnesses had gotten no closer to identifying the killers than to say that they were African-Americans, had dreadlocks that were tied in buns, and that the shooter, who wielded a black gun, was shorter than his companion.

Both Blackmon and Ravenell are black. During his trial, Blackmon has worn his hair in dreadlocks. Ravenell’s jail mug shot shows the same style. Jail records indicate that Blackmon is 9 inches taller than Ravenell.

Thursday afternoon, a frame grab from the video appeared to show Blackmon entering the check-cashing business. Video that had been described by the prosecutors as showing the defendant and Corado standing near each other at the store’s counter was hard to decipher from the seats in the courtroom.

Afterward, Loven said the videos had not lived up to their billing. He said that their poor overall quality meant the prosecution must still rely on “very generic descriptions of African-American men.”

Liz Crampton contributed.

Gordon: 704-358-5095
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