LOCKPORT – One of the defendants in the shooting of an 18-year-old Niagara Falls man rejected a plea offer Tuesday, while a co-defendant was allowed to change lawyers in the wake of a judge’s public criticism of the attorney’s job performance.
Jacob J. Taggart, 23, turned down an offer to plead guilty to a Class D felony with a seven-year maximum prison sentence. Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said Taggart, a repeat felon, risks a 25-year sentence if convicted as charged.
“He does understand that, and he wants to go forward to trial,” said Frank L. LoTempio, Taggart’s attorney.
Meanwhile, co-defendant Paul E. Buck Jr., 23, asked for a new lawyer.
Assistant Public Defender Matthew P. Pynn said in court that Buck told him he lacked confidence in him.
Two weeks ago, Murphy blasted Pynn in open court because neither he nor Hoffmann questioned Niagara Falls Detective John Conti regarding Buck’s repeated requests to halt police questioning over the shooting of Anthony McDougald, 18, who was gunned down April 25 at 12th and Niagara streets.
McDougald survived with a bullet still lodged in his chest. Taggart, Buck and Marlyn M. Rubin, 20, have been indicted on assault and gang assault charges.
Although it’s unclear who fired the shot, eyewitnesses placed all three at the scene, and McDougald testified at a preliminary hearing that he saw Taggart and Buck holding guns.
Conti testified in an evidentiary hearing Oct. 2 that Buck never asked to stop the interrogation. Murphy said that was belied by a 70-minute DVD of the interview, which the judge said showed Buck asking repeatedly to leave.
Two weeks ago, Murphy asked if either attorney had actually watched the video. He 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.”
When presented Tuesday with Buck’s vote of no confidence in Pynn, Murphy at first said, “I have a great deal of confidence.”
But moments later, the judge conceded, “Under the circumstances, I can see how Mr. Buck would come to that conclusion.”
Buck’s case was adjourned until Nov. 21, when he will be represented by his new attorney, Dominic Saraceno of the county conflict defender’s office. A date for the resumption of the evidentiary hearing, with expected questions to Conti about what Murphy called his “dubious denial,” is expected to be scheduled after that.
The delay in settling the admissibility of Buck’s statements also resulted in a delay in Murphy ruling on the request from Phillip Dabney Jr., Rubin’s lawyer, for a separate trial for his client.
Rubin, Buck and Taggart were scheduled to be tried together starting Dec. 17, but Tuesday, Murphy postponed the trial until Jan. 28.