LOCKPORT – Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III last week called for more testimony from a Niagara Falls detective in connection with a shooting that left an 18-year-old man with a bullet lodged in his chest.
Murphy said a video of the police interrogation of one of the defendants contradicted the testimony of Detective John Conti, who testified during an Oct. 2 hearing that defendant Paul E. Buck Jr. never asked to stop questioning.
In fact, Murphy said, the DVD shows Buck repeatedly asking to leave and to have access to his cellphone, which police had taken from him. He did not seem to ask specifically for an attorney, however, as he waived his Miranda rights at the start of the interview.
Calling Conti’s statement a “dubious denial,” Murphy also wondered if the attorneys in the case had bothered to watch the DVD of the interrogation, because neither brought up the matter of Buck’s asking to leave during the hearing on the admissibility of Buck’s statements.
“I’m troubled by the lack of questioning,” Murphy said. “If I were to make a decision on this record, the defense attorney would be subject to a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, if there were a conviction.”
Assistant Public Defender Matthew P. Pynn said he had looked at the DVD but didn’t analyze it for admissibility.
“It was not my best work,” Pynn told Murphy, but he picked up on Murphy’s concerns and asked for the hearing to be reopened. Conti will return to the witness stand Nov. 13.
Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann did not comment.
The situation prevented Murphy from ruling on a motion by Phillip Dabney, attorney for co-defendant Marlyn M. Rubin, asking for a separate trial for Rubin.
Rubin, Buck and Jacob J. Taggart are to be tried together Dec. 17 on charges of first-degree assault and first-degree gang assault in connection with the April 25 shooting of Anthony McDougald, 18, at 12th and Niagara streets.
Rubin, 20; Buck, 23; and Taggart, 23, all of Niagara Falls, have rejected offers from Hoffmann to plead guilty to Class D felonies and testify against anyone who didn’t plead.
Murphy said that on the 70-minute DVD, Buck at first denies being at the shooting scene. He later drops that claim but says he doesn’t know who the shooter was.
Pynn said Buck was ready to fight McDougald and “his group” when “shots rang out.”
Eyewitnesses gave police the names of all three defendants, and a 16-year-old girl identified them in police photo arrays. McDougald testified at a preliminary hearing that he saw guns in the hands of Taggart and Buck but couldn’t say that he saw Rubin with a gun.
As for what the defendants told police, Pynn said, “Every statement contradicts every other statement.”