District Man Sentenced to Over 19 Years in Prison For Shooting Friend and Setting His Body on Fire
Defendant Made a Video Talking About Plans to Commit Murder
WASHINGTON – Zacchaeus “Zack” Blanding, 19, of Washington, D.C., was sentenced today to 19 years and four months in prison on charges stemming from the shooting death of his friend, Heineken McNeil, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips announced.
Blanding pled guilty in October 2015, in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, to second-degree murder while armed. The plea, which was contingent on the Court’s approval, called for a sentencing range of 18 to 26 years in prison, the exact amount of time to be determined by the judge. The Honorable Rhonda Reid Winston accepted the plea today and sentenced Blanding accordingly. Following his prison term, Blanding will be placed on five years of supervised release.
According to the government’s evidence, on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, at approximately 5:25 a.m., the District of Columbia Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services was sent to the alley behind the 1200 block of Holbrook Terrace NE. The fire department was dispatched due to a fire involving brush, a melting trash can, and a dead human body. There were small flames approximately one to two feet high around the body and brush. The body of Mr. McNeil, 19, was later transported to the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where an autopsy was performed. Two bullets that were removed from the head appeared to be from a small caliber firearm. The cause of death was determined to be gunshot wounds to the head and the manner of death was by homicide.
During the course of the investigation, Blanding was interviewed by homicide detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). During these interviews, he admitted to shooting Mr. McNeil and then setting his body on fire.
The investigation revealed that in June 2015, Mr. McNeil lived with Blanding in Blanding’s apartment in the 1200 block of Meigs Place NE. On or about June 21, 2015, Blanding decided to kill Mr. McNeil. He video-recorded himself with his cell phone on June 21, 2015, at approximately 9:17 a.m., saying, “This is going to be the last video I’ll ever make. I plan on killing three people – my best friend, my mother and her girlfriend . . .” After the murder, Blanding told detectives multiple times that Mr. McNeil was his best friend.
Approximately 24 hours after the video was recorded, on or about the morning of June 22, 2015, Blanding shot Mr. McNeil twice in the head with a .22-caliber firearm inside Blanding’s bedroom. He then wrapped the body in a blue blanket. Blanding then made multiple trips throughout the day on June 22 to conceal the murder he just committed. He went to a nearby store and bought duct tape to secure the body. On his way back to his apartment, he found a large garbage can, which he dragged into his apartment. He placed Mr. McNeil’s body in the garbage can and dragged the can into the back alley of his apartment building. The body remained in the garbage can most of the day.
Later that same day, Blanding made another trip to another store to buy shoes and returned to his apartment. He also went outside for a while in an attempt to “play off” that he had just committed a murder. On another trip from his apartment, he went to an Auto Zone and purchased a gas canister. He then returned to his apartment again and took a nap. Later that evening, he went to a neighboring gas station and filled the gas canister with gas.
At approximately 5:23 a.m. on June 23, 2015, almost 24 hours after he killed Mr. McNeil, Blanding went into the alley, where the body was still concealed in the garbage can. He doused the body in gasoline and then set it on fire. He left the body to burn where the Fire and Emergency Medical Services located it. Blanding was arrested on July 8, 2015, and has been in custody ever since.
In announcing the sentence, U.S. Attorney Phillips commended the work of the detectives of the Criminal Investigations Division Homicide Branch, crime scene officers, and the Fifth Police District of the Metropolitan Police Department. He also expressed appreciation for the work of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services and the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. He acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Jennifer Clark and Jennifer Allen of the Victim/Witness Assistance Unit; Paralegal Specialist Vanessa Trent-Valentine, and Investigative Analyst Zachary McMenamin. Finally, he praised the work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shana Fulton and Christine Macey, who investigated and prosecuted the case.