Conviction of man convicted in Church’s Chicken shooting

CHULA VISTA, Calif. (CNS) – A man convicted of opening fire on a group of workers at a fast food restaurant in Otay Mesa, killing one of them, was to be sentenced on Tuesday to a state prison sentence.

Albert Lee Blake, 51, was convicted by a Chula Vista jury last month on counts of murder and attempted murder arising from the November 6, 2019 shooting at Church’s Chicken restaurant at 3726 Del Sol Blvd.

Maribel Merino Ibanez, 28, was killed in the shooting, while two other employees were hospitalized. A third worker was targeted but was not hit by the gunfire, prosecutors said.

Assistant District Attorney Mary Loeb said Blake attempted to use a fake $ 100 bill to buy food, but Ibanez was turned away.

The prosecutor said he then left the restaurant and drove to his car where he “prepared to kill on this light” by changing clothes to better conceal a 9mm pistol he was planning. to bring him back to the restaurant, then repositioning his car. near the exit of the restaurant so that he could easily escape.

After the shooting, Blake fled the state and was arrested later that month in Memphis, Tennessee, prosecutors said. Although no surveillance footage was available inside the restaurant, investigators located footage of the shooter’s vehicle using smart street light cameras, according to Loeb.

The prosecutor said investigators identified the vehicle as a Dodge Charger and discovered that Blake had been contacted by police several times that year in a similar vehicle.

With Blake identified as the driver, Loeb said his phone records helped police locate his girlfriend. At his home, police found the same brand of ammunition used in the shooting, as well as Blake’s car. Inside the car were two fake $ 100 bills with Blake’s fingerprints on them, Loeb said. The car’s steering wheel and shifter also tested positive for bullet residue, the prosecutor said.

Loeb claimed that Blake’s cell phone was also in the area of ​​the November 6 shooting and did not leave that location until right after the shooting. Another cell phone linked to Blake contained pictures of him with a similar haircut and clothing matching the shooter’s descriptions. By tracking this second phone, police were able to locate him in Tennessee, Loeb said.

Defense lawyer Katie Nagler told jurors Blake was wrongly charged, saying the police “focused on Mr. Blake in less than 48 hours, and then everything was designed to make him their suspect “.

The lawyer said the identification of the gunman’s vehicle as a Dodge Charger was based on assumptions made by investigators, who she said could not have been able to identify with certainty the make and model of the car to through the pictures provided by the smart street lights. Once police discovered Blake had a vehicle similar to the gunman’s, “they were stuck with him,” Nagler said.

According to the defense attorney, no forensic evidence such as DNA or fingerprints linked Blake to the restaurant, and the identification of the suspect by witnesses was unreliable. Although all witnesses generally described the shooter as a tall black man, Nagler said other details regarding the suspect differed according to testimony.

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