LOCKPORT - Two men who sought new trials in homicide cases had their hopes dashed by Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas last week.
The judge rejected motions by Cordero R. Gibson and Norman J. Pryor to scrub their convictions because, they claimed, they got bad advice from their lawyers.
Although "ineffective assistance of counsel" can be a reason for reversing a verdict or a guilty plea, the threshold to prove that is high, and Farkas ruled that neither Gibson nor Pryor had met it.
In Gibson's case, the ruling set him up to receive a prison sentence of as long as 18 years on his guilty plea to a reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter in connection with the Dec. 8 slaying of Niagara University junior Brandon Johnson of Rochester.
Johnson was shot to death in his University Court apartment in what police said was a robbery attempt.
The triggerman, Gordon N. Jackson, 18, of Niagara Falls, was sentenced Sept. 19 to 21 years to life in prison for his guilty plea to second-degree murder.
Gibson, 24, of Niagara Fall, was present in the apartment and drove the getaway car.
Jackson's attorney, Ann Nichols, claimed at the sentencing that the robbery was Gibson's idea.
Gibson sought to cancel his plea and go to trial, claiming that he didn't understand the terms of the plea bargain worked out by his then-attorney, Michael S. Deal.
However, a hearing Aug. 29 went badly for Gibson, who at one point invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked if he was lying.
Gibson claimed he had a hard time reading but also said didn't know he was going to have to serve 18 years until he read it in a newspaper.
Prosecutors offered tapes of wiretapped phone calls from the County Jail to show that Gibson knew and understood the plea deal before he accepted it.
In her ruling, Farkas accused Gibson of having "buyer's remorse."
"The defendant thinks he is savvy and able to dupe this court into believing that he was confused and received ineffective assistance of counsel. That is not the case," she wrote.
A jury convicted Pryor of murder in October 2004 for the July 6, 2003, shooting death of Joshua Hunt, 19, in a gun battle outside a Niagara Falls bar. Pryor is serving 20 years to life in prison.
Pryor, who admitted his guilt during a hearing, said prosecutors offered him a five-year sentence in a plea deal before the trial started.
He said his attorney, James M. Perry, was confident of acquittal, so Pryor rejected the plea.
Pryor said Perry also told him the five-year offer might not stick because of Pryor's status as a persistent felon.
But the 2004 transcript shows Perry recommended the plea bargain and Pryor turned it down after "reasoned consideration." Perry testified that he never promised Pryor an acquittal.
Farkas also noted that Pryor admitted he lied on the witness stand in 2004 when he said he didn't kill Hunt.
Farkas deemed Perry's testimony "credible" and Pryor's "self-serving."