LOCKPORT – A Niagara Falls man who sought to withdraw his guilty plea in a homicide case ended up desperately trying to avoid a perjury charge Wednesday.
At one point, Cordero R. Gibson responded to a question of whether he was lying by invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
“Right now, your client’s credibility with this court is very low,” Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas told defense attorney Dominic Saraceno.
Gibson pleaded guilty May 25 to first-degree manslaughter and accepted a maximum 18-year prison sentence in connection with the Dec. 8 death of Brandon Johnson, 20, of Rochester, a Niagara University student shot to death during a robbery attempt in his University Court apartment.
The shooter, Gordon N. Jackson, 18, of the Falls, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 19. Farkas said she will have a ruling by then on Gibson’s motion to cancel his plea.
Saraceno said, “We’re not asking the court to find him not guilty. We’re asking that he have his day in court.”
“It’s our position he had his day in court,” Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffman replied.
Originally, Gibson was accused of “felony murder,” a charge resulting from a death that occurs while another felony is being committed, for being present at the scene of the robbery.
Hoffman kept Gibson on the witness stand for more than three hours, demanding to know if he was lying May 25 when he told Farkas he understood all the charges and needed no more time to talk to his then-lawyer, Michael S. Deal.
Gibson insisted he hadn’t understood the judge’s questions that day. He claimed he was too upset because his mother had been in a car crash that morning.
Deal testified that he told Gibson of the accident and also that his mother was unhurt.
Saraceno asserted that Gibson suffered from learning disabilities and had a hard time reading. However, Gibson had told the judge May 25 that he could read and write. Deal said he saw no evidence of illiteracy.
Saraceno charged that Hoffman was “trying to set [Gibson] up for a perjury charge.” He advised Gibson not to answer some questions.
Gibson said he thought he was pleading guilty to a Class C felony with a 15-year maximum sentence and claimed he didn’t learn of the 18-year cap until he read it in a newspaper, even though Farkas told him what the sentence would be.
Deal said hopes of a 15-year maximum sentence evaporated after a Jan. 9 meeting with Hoffman, who wanted Gibson to turn state’s evidence. Gibson claimed he wasn’t involved in the crime. Wednesday, he refused to say whether he would have taken that plea offer.