A jury took about 90 minutes to convict a Fulton County man of 10 felony charges for pouring a pot of boiled water on a gay couple, a crime that prosecutors called a “violent, hateful, premeditated attack.”
Superior Court Judge Henry Newkirk then sentenced Martin Blackwell, 48, to 40 years in prison – the maximum allowed under state law.
“I don’t know if you are a soulless individual but you a were a soulless malicious person on Feb. 12,” Newkirk said as he sentenced Blackwell.
The verdict came Wednesday on the third day of the trial. Blackwell, a truck driver, faced eight counts of aggravated battery and two counts of aggravated assault for the February attack on Marquez Tolbert and Anthony Gooden. The incident took place in the College Park apartment that Gooden shared with his mother and other relatives.
“It is an absolute tragedy for what you did to these two young men, their families and society and the hundreds of thousands of dollars society had to pay to correct what you’ve done,” Newkirk said.
“I find that the evidence was overwhelming and the jury found that also. Throughout the time leading up to throwing hot water on these men, the voice of reason could have taken over. You could have filled up that pot of water and emptied two ice trays into and it would have had the effect you wanted,” Newkirk added.
“They might have been mad but they wouldn’t have been hurt. They wouldn’t have been scarred,” the judge said.
Tolbert and Gooden said they were pleased with the outcome.
“I just want to say thank you for everything,” Tolbert said. “I’ve been through a lot these last couple of months and I’m happy about the outcome and now I can breathe easier. Thank you.”
Gooden said the verdict and sentence will allow him to sleep better.
“I appreciate everybody who worked with the case. I am happy we finally got justice,” he said.
'It was agonizing. It was excruciating'
On Tuesday, prosecutors accused Blackwell (top photo) of carrying out a “violent, hateful, premeditated attack” on Tolbert (second photo) and Gooden (third photo). The incident came in the wake of Gooden coming out as gay to his family, a development that upset Blackwell, Assistant District Attorney Franklin Engram said in court Tuesday.
“[Gooden’s family] embraced him and supported him, except for Mr. Blackwell, who was not happy about the announcement,” Engram said during his opening argument.
And on Feb. 12, Blackwell took action and gave money to Gooden’s sisters so they would leave him alone in the apartment with Gooden and Tolbert, Engram said.
“This is what the defendant had been waiting for. He’s not happy with homosexuality going on in the apartment. He is getting madder and madder. He goes into the kitchen, finds the biggest pot he can find and fills it up with water and puts it on the stove,” Engram said.
“He waits until the water is scalding hot. He takes the water off the stove and while the two men are asleep, he dumps that water on them while they are in bed,” he added.
Tolbert and Gooden described the pain from the attack as the worst they had ever experienced. The incident severely burned both men and the injuries included several surgeries and skin grafts. Tolbert was hospitalized for 10 days, while Gooden was placed in a coma and remained in the hospital for nearly six weeks.
“I wake up to the most unimaginable pain in my entire life,” Tolbert, now 21, testified as he broke down crying. “I can’t figure out why I’m wet and why my entire body hurts and why my face is so hot.”
“It was agonizing. It was excruciating,” he added.
Blackwell poured the boiled water on the two men as they slept, fully clothed, on a mattress in the dining room. A startled Tolbert jumped up and slammed his face on the wall. He said he was flailing around when Blackwell grabbed his arm.
“He pulls me by the arm out of the house. He said, “Get out of my house with all that gay,” Tolbert said.
Tolbert said the pain continued as emergency personnel treated him at Grady Memorial Hospital.
“It was painful,” he said again fighting back tears. “My nerves were out. I could feel the air move. I could feel the wind from when your hands are moving towards me. I could feel the indentures in the forceps they were using to clean my skin.”
Gooden, now 23, said the attack has left him scarred and rendered his left arm disabled. Both men testified that they are unable to work.
“I woke up to boiling hot water all over my body, all over my face,” Gooden testified. “My clothes were soaking wet. When I woke up, I really couldn’t see. I didn’t know if he was coming towards me with more water. The first thing for me was to clear my eyes and head toward the door.”
Gooden ran from the apartment.
“I was scared. I didn’t want to be nowhere near Martin. I didn’t know if he had another pot of water to burn us again,” he said.
“It was hurting so bad. It was burning so bad. I remember lifting up my shirt. I just seen my skin peeling off of me. It was hurting so bad. So much pain,” Gooden added.
‘It’s not about hate’
Blackwell’s attorneys mounted a limited defense. They argued that Blackwell was trying to enforce “old school” values in the apartment the long-haul trucker shared with Gooden’s mom in College Park. They also argued that his actions were reckless but not hateful.
“It’s not about hate,” Monique Walker (fourth photo), one of Blackwell’s public defenders, said Wednesday. “It’s about old school culture. It’s about old school thinking. It’s about a man from Tennessee probably a little backwards.”
Walker said Blackwell responded to “disrespectful” actions from the gay couple inside the apartment. But in testimony on Tuesday, Tolbert said the men were sleeping fully clothed and Gooden said the couple had never had sex before the assault.
“It’s one act. It caused injury. It was distasteful. It was disrespectful,” Walker said Wednesday.
“He was trying to prevent disrespect, he was trying to gain respect. It was not deadly. It was not intentional. It was not hateful. It was reckless. It was revolting,” Walker added.
Blackwell faced 10 charges – eight counts of aggravated battery and two counts of aggravated assault. Walker argued that the charges were excessive.
“There is a 10-count indictment for one bad behavior that happened to two people. At best it should be two counts,” Walker said.
Walker hinted that Blackwell’s heavy drinking also contributed to the assault.
“He poured hot water on them, yes. He is responsible. It wasn’t hateful. It wasn’t malicious. It was reckless,” Walker said.
Blackwell did not testify during the three-day trial.
Blackwell was recorded on a jailhouse telephone call bragging to a relative about pouring “hot water” on Tolbert and Blackwell.
“It’s been all over the news. It’s been nationwide. I caught him and his boyfriend having sex in the living room,” Blackwell said in the phone call.
“Atlanta has a bunch of gay folks down here,” he added.
Willis said the call itself is enough to convict Blackwell.
“These 47 seconds convict Mr. Blackwell of every count in the indictment,” Deputy District Attorney Fani Willis told the jury on Wednesday.
A College Park police officer who responded to the 9-1-1 call on Feb. 12, Cpl. Wayne Hood, said Blackwell admitted pouring the boiled water on the men and had a “had a smug look on his face, smirking.”
“He didn’t show any kind of remorse,” Hood said.
One of Gooden’s sisters testified that Blackwell “smirked” at her after the incident.
Willis called the attack a “heinous, vicious painful crime” that targeted the two men because they are gay.
“Even if you find someone’s religion, their race, their sexual orientation as simply repulsive, even if that’s your belief and it’s a deeply held belief, you don’t got the right to hurt them. Because that’s what we’re talking about,” Willis said.
“In this county, the first thing I want you to tell them is that we allow people to be who they are, whoever that is,” Willis added.
Guilty plea withdrawn
The case moved to trial after Blackwell withdrew his guilty plea when Newkirk sentenced him to serve 30 years of a 40-year sentence in prison. Blackwell quickly rejected the plea during a court hearing on Thursday.
During that hearing and again on Monday, Blackwell complained that he was unhappy with his attorneys.
On Monday, Blackwell’s attorneys and prosecutors culled through the pool of potential jurors. Questions about LGBT issues, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, domestic battery and alcoholism dominated the day-long screening of jurors as attorneys tried to filter out people who had strong views – negatively or positively – about LGBT issues.
The panel included a commercial insurance underwriter, forensic accountant, systems analyst for the IRS, Coke employee, Target stock person, the owner of a fitness franchise, flight attendant, part-time accountant and Verizon customer service analyst. Several of the jurors live in north Fulton, including Alpharetta, Milton and Roswell.
In 1991, Blackwell was convicted of two counts of aggravated assault for shooting two people in Fulton. He was sentenced to five years and served one, concurrently, for each count.