Fulton man pleads guilty to anti-gay attack, then withdraws it

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A Fulton County man facing 30 years in prison for pouring a pot of boiling water on two young men revoked his guilty plea and will face trial next week.

Martin Blackwell (photo), 48, will now face trial next week on a host of charges for the Feb. 12 attack on Marquez Tolbert and Anthony Gooden inside a College Park apartment. 

Fulton prosecutors sought a 40-year prison sentence for Blackwell. But Superior Court Judge Henry Newkirk sentenced Blackwell to 40 years in prison to serve 30. 

“I’ve been at this a long time and this is just horrendous,” Newkirk told Blackwell before he sentenced him on Thursday.

“I’m not sure what kind of evil possessed you that day. You had plenty of time to say I’m not going to do that. Your voice of reason should have been with you that day,” the judge added.

Blackwell then withdrew his guilty plea and will face a jury trial on Monday.

The withdrawal of the guilty plea came after a nearly half-hour hearing in which Blackwell was at times argumentative and criticized his public defender. Blackwell faced 10 counts but prosecutors merged them into two felonies – two counts of aggravated battery. Blackwell could have been sentenced to 40 years in prison on the two counts, which is what Assistant District Attorney Franklin Engram argued for.

“It was a senseless premeditated crime that was motivated by bigotry and hatred,” Engram said in court. “The residents of Fulton County demand a just sentence. The gay community of Atlanta demands a just sentence.”

Blackwell, who at the time was dating Gooden’s mother, sometimes lived in the apartment where the attack took place. On the night of the incident, Blackwell gave money to two other relatives to leave the apartment so he would be alone with Gooden and Tolbert, Engram said in court.

“He took the time to get the sisters out of the house so he could be in there, so he could boil the water and throw it all over these two individuals because he was not happy with their sexuality,” Engram said.

Tolbert and Gooden, who appeared in court on Thursday, face up to two years of recovery to heal from their injuries. Gooden wore a glove on his left arm and said in court that the attack made his arm nearly unusable. As he recovered, Gooden said Thursday that he had to learn how to walk and speak again and heal from burns across his body, face and back. He was in a coma for 10 days after the attack.

“My left arm is disabled and that is the arm I work with and there is a lot of work I can’t do,” Gooden said. “I am still healing today. It is crazy. I just want justice.”

Tolbert, in tears, told the court that the pain from his injuries was so severe that he couldn’t sleep.

“The pain was agonizing and excruciating so much that I could not think straight. Every morning I would scream in agonizing pain because of what Martin did,” Tolbert said.

Before revoking his guilty plea – pushing the case to trial – Blackwell apologized to the two men.

“I would just like to apologize to Kim [Foster, Gooden’s mother], to Mr. Tolbert and to Anthony. I really didn’t intend for all of this to happen. I would just like to say that I’m sorry,” Blackwell said.


'We woke up to boiling hot water'


A grand jury indicted Blackwell on March 25 and five days later, on March 30, he pleaded not guilty to the charges. In May, a judge denied bond for Blackwell. 

“We woke up to boiling hot water,” Tolbert told Project Q Atlanta in March. “I started screaming uncontrollably and I was pulled out of the house. We ran to the neighbors and called the police.”

“We were just burning. My body was just stinging. It was like a really, really severe kind of stinging. I could hardly think straight,” Tolbert added.

The men were asleep on a mattress in the living room of the apartment that Gooden shared with his mom. Blackwell was dating Gooden's mom but didn't live at the apartment. When he arrived, he spotted the two men asleep and attacked them, according to an incident report from the College Park Police Department. 

Blackwell allegedly told police that he couldn't stand to see the two men sleeping together.

“They was stuck together like two hot dogs, so I poured a little hot water on them and helped them out,” Blackwell told investigators. “They was stuck like two hot dogs. They'll be alright, it was just a little hot water.”

The attack gained national attention after it was first reported by Project Q and the men received an outpouring of support. Thousands of people donated nearly $140,000 to the two men through two Go Fund Me campaigns – $68,503 to Tolbert and $70,655 to Gooden. Gay Atlanta also hosted two fundraisers – on March 27 at Woof's and April 2 during the Atlanta Bucks Rugby match.

But by late March, the fund for Gooden was disbanded by the cousin who launched it, Diyawn Jackson, amidst allegations that she was keeping the money. Gooden, facing more than $178,000 in medical bills from Grady Memorial Hospital, said Jackson has given him just $12,000 of the donations, according to WSB. Jackson said she's given Gooden more than half of the money.

“There’s nothing to talk about. You’ve got my account number. You’ve got my routing number. Give me my money,” Gooden told WSB in April. “She is still holding onto my money. I haven't received all my money and I want something to take place because I need it.”


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