LOCKPORT - Defense attorney E. Earl Key tried to convince a judge that his client, Gordon N. Jackson, was not solely to blame for killing a Niagara University student last year.
But there was at least one person who didn't buy the argument: his client, Gordon N. Jackson.
Jackson, 18, of Niagara Falls, was sentenced Wednesday to 21 years to life in state prison on a second-degree murder charge in the death of Brandon Johnson, 21, of Rochester.
Jackson apologized to his victim's family and contradicted his attorney's efforts to shift much of the blame to his co-defendant, Cordero R. Gibson, 24.
"I never once blamed what happened on anyone," he said. "I never said it was peer pressure."
He then turned to the victim's family and said, "I never meant for that to happen. I'm sorry, and I don't blame my actions on anyone else."
Jackson shot Johnson in the head with a shotgun Dec. 8 in the victim's apartment on University Court near the Niagara campus. Police said it was a robbery attempt.
Gibson, who prosecutors said was present for the robbery, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and was promised a sentence of no more than 18 years in prison. However, he is trying to cancel the plea based on a claim of ineffective assistance by his attorney.
Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas has not yet ruled on that motion.
In court Wednesday, the victim's mother, Wanda Johnson, said, "I cannot think of any worse tragedy to befall a mother than to be told her son was shot and killed." She told Farkas, "The pain is too great for me to make sense of this murder."
Gibson cooked up the idea of the robbery and pressured Jackson into taking part, according to defense attorney Ann Nichols, who represented Jackson along with E. Earl Key.
"This is an older man, calculating," Nicholas said of Gibson. "He knew Mr. Jackson was consuming alcohol and drugs that evening. He was not in his right mind."
The peer pressure theme ran through letters to the court from Jackson's family, seeking leniency, Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said.
"He appears to have had everything growing up, a loving family growing up," Hoffmann told the judge.
But she also noted that Jackson committed an armed robbery as a juvenile, that police had reports of Jackson being involved in street gangs since 2009 and that on his Facebook page, Jackson declared his intention to "get money by any means."
"This idea that he fell victim to peer pressure is just another way of avoiding responsibility," Hoffmann said. "It was his gun. . Brandon Johnson isn't here today mostly because he was the one closest to the door ."
Hoffmann said that statements from two men who were not charged, but were waiting outside the Johnson apartment in a car, reported that Jackson was in good spirits on his return.
"He was laughing and said, 'He'll be all right.' He had just shot someone in the head with a shotgun," Hoffmann said.
The prosecutor said the plea bargain that prevented a trial and reduced Jackson's minimum sentence from 40 years to 21 years was as much of a break as Jackson should get.
"They're asking for leniency. He already received it," Hoffmann said. "I can't for the life of me think why he deserves a minute less."
Farkas told Jackson, "Mr. Gibson did not put that gun in your hand. He did not pull the trigger. This was all you. Part of me wishes I hadn't capped the sentence."
Wanda Johnson commented, "I'm just glad that it's over with. It's senseless for both of us . We're both hurting. But nothing will bring my son back. They can see theirs."