LOCKPORT – Darius M. Belton, a Niagara Falls man charged with shooting his uncle to death, rejected a plea offer Thursday in Niagara County Court.
His attorney, Angelo Musitano, said the proposed sentence was too long.
He also said he may present a self-defense argument to the jury if the case goes to trial, which is scheduled to occur April 17.
On Feb. 4, Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann had offered Belton, who is charged with second-degree murder, the chance to plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter with a sentencing limit of 20 years.
If convicted of murder, Belton faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison. The legal sentencing range for the manslaughter charge is between five and 25 years.
Belton, 18, of South Avenue, is charged with the Sept. 25 slaying of Luis A. Ubiles, 37, who lived next door. Police said the outdoor shooting followed an argument between Ubiles and Belton’s mother, who is married to Ubiles’ brother.
Asked by County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas for a response to the plea offer, Musitano said, “We considered that last night or the night before at length. It’s not acceptable.”
After court, Musitano told reporters, “I don’t care about the ‘man-1.’ It’s the 20 years … If the number comes down, there’s a possibility of a plea.”
Hoffmann commented, “It was a cap, so the lower numbers would always have been available.”
Farkas ordered the sides back to court March 20 for a hearing on police identification procedures used in the case.
Asked if Belton still could take her plea offer then, Hoffmann said, “If he wants it, I won’t pull it yet.”
Musitano said if there is a trial, a self-defense claim is “a very distinct possibility.”
After the argument, Belton reportedly went back into his house and came out with a gun. However, Musitano discounted that version of events. “The guy [Ubiles] ran towards him,” he said.
Hoffmann said, “I’m not surprised that’s his defense. I’m not going to try the case in the newspaper.”