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LOCKPORT – Cordero R. Gibson of Niagara Falls was sentenced today to 15 years in prison for his role in the shooting death of a Niagara University student last year.

Gibson’s attorney, Dominic Saraceno, said Gibson shouldn’t have pleaded guilty, but efforts to cancel the plea were denied by Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas. Saraceno said Gibson will appeal.

Farkas denounced Gibson from the bench. “You, sir, are a coward,” the judge said. “You set in motion a series of events that you take no responsibility for.”

Saraceno, a member of the county’s conflict defender staff who took over the defense after Michael S. Deal worked out the plea bargain, accused co-defendant Gordon N. Jackson of cooking up the robbery effort that ended with the shooting death of Brandon Johnson, 21, of Rochester, Dec. 8 in an apartment on University Court in Niagara Falls.

Jackson, 18, of the Falls, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced Sept. 19 to 21 years to life in prison.

Gibson accepted a plea offer to first-degree manslaughter with a commitment from Farkas that she would sentence him to no more than 18 years.

Gibson tearfully apologized to the Johnson family but said, “I know it’s not enough words.”

The defendant also commented, “Everything that’s been said about me, it kills me every day. I’m in jail with people with problems. … I abused alcohol and I abused drugs, and if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Farkas ordered the grand jury transcripts to be brought to the courtroom to settle the attorneys’ dispute over the level of knowledge Gibson had of the robbery plan. The testimony came from two men who were in the car with Gibson and Jackson but were never charged.

Saraceno told Farkas, “Two people were given a pass that night. They didn’t get charged. They cooperated with the District Attorney’s Office.”

Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann replied, “There was no criminal liability for those individuals. To say they were given immunity is incorrect. They testified they tried to talk [Gibson and Jackson] out of it.”

Saraceno said, “{Jackson] came up with this plan. He used my client to facilitate the robbery. I don’t believe my client knew the co-defendant had a gun.”

That’s when Farkas called for the grand jury transcripts and read portions aloud. Saraceno said neither he nor Deal had been allowed access to them. After hearing them, Saraceno said, “The transcript is riddled with issues of fact that should have gone to a jury.”

One of the uncharged men testified that he entered the apartment with Gibson, not Jackson, and found several men smoking marijuana. Gibson and the other visitors soon left and rejoined Jackson, who had been in Gibson’s car during the apartment visit.

The witness testified that Gibson mentioned seeing bags of marijuana. Farkas, reading aloud, quoted the witness as saying, “Cordero said something about robbing the place. It wasn’t serious. Gordon took it to the extreme. He said, ‘I got two jobs, but this could be the rest of my kid’s Christmas present money,’ ”

The other uncharged witness told a similar story and quoted Jackson as saying, “I feel like robbing somebody today.”

Both men said that after the apartment visit, Gibson drove the car to Jackson’s house, and Jackson went inside, returning with what appeared to be a gun that he placed in the car trunk. They went back to the University Court apartment, where Jackson shot Johnson in the head with a shotgun.

“It’s clear from that transcript that [the uncharged men] had the same amount of knowledge as Cordero did,” Saraceno told Farkas. “You’ve got one man standing here convicted of manslaughter and two others who weren’t even charged with a misdemeanor. It’s not just.”

Hoffmann said Gibson knew the two students who lived in the apartment, and Jackson didn’t. She said Gibson should not be given credit for calling the police later.

“Mr. Jackson was trying to contact him. He was afraid that Mr. Jackson was coming after him. He called out of fear,” Hoffmann said. She also accused Gibson of being “manipulative with the police” by saying he would confess only to a certain officer, whom he described. The prosecutor said that when that officer was found, Gibson said, “That’s not him.”

Hoffmann said a plea with an 18-year sentencing cap “is all the leniency, at this point, that he’s entitled to.”

“I wish he’d have gotten more,” said Wanda Johnson, the victim’s mother. “He was older, and he manipulated the court and he manipulated those kids.”

“I’m glad he got something,” said Freddy Johnson, the victim’s father. “It won’t bring my son back, though.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com