on March 14, 2013 - 9:51 AM
, updated March 14, 2013 at 5:23 PM
An Erie County jury Thursday found a Buffalo man guilty of killing a Metro Bus driver who was on his front porch before sunrise waiting for a cab ride to work.
Jurors deliberated for about three hours before convicting Joshua J. Mitchell, 25, of second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon. Mitchell faces 25 years to life in prison when sentenced April 22.
“I’ll be back,” Mitchell said softly to his friends and family in the gallery as he was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.
Friends and family of the victim, Brian G. Chapman Jr., hugged one another and praised God as they walked out of the courtroom.
“We thought we presented a favorable case,” said David R. Addelman, Mitchell’s defense lawyer. “Mr. Mitchell and his family are very disappointed in the verdict.”
Buttressing the prosecution’s case was testimony from a police officer who was on patrol on Guilford Street at the time of the shooting and heard the gunshots. The officer pursued and stopped the car carrying Mitchell and arrested him.
“The police officer was certainly johnny-on-the-spot,” said District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III. “The prosecutors did a great job, and the police investigation was professionally done.”
After a week of testimony, the jury listened to closing arguments Thursday and then deliberated on whether they believed that Mitchell shot Chapman with a .38-caliber handgun.
It was before sunrise Feb. 1, 2012, when Chapman readied himself for work driving a Metro Bus and was waiting on the porch of his East Side home for a cab ride to work.
Meanwhile, Mitchell was riding around Buffalo in the back seat of a borrowed Saturn Ion as he and three others looked for places to buy beer and marijuana.
Police Officer Dennis R. Gilbert was in an unmarked Ford Crown Victoria, following the Saturn Ion and nearly rear-ending the car before passing it by on Guilford.
Seconds later, several shots rang out, killing the popular 37-year-old bus driver.
Gilbert testified that he noticed a person on a porch on Guilford but did not see anybody else on a sidewalk, lawn or other location. But he said he remembers the Saturn because he was three car-lengths behind it when it came to an abrupt stop on the street.
He said that he swerved to avoid striking the car and that the driver’s-side rear door then swung open.
The officer swerved again, and “I nearly struck the door,” he recalled in court this week.
Gilbert testified that a large man got out of the car.
The gray Saturn resembled a silver Ford Focus that the police were looking for that morning. After passing the Saturn on Guilford, Gilbert slowed down to run the car’s license plate number.
That’s when the officer heard several shots “from directly behind me,” Gilbert testified, but he did not see who fired the shots.
“As soon as I heard the gunshots, I got on the radio and identified who I was and where I was,” Gilbert said. “I did a 180.”
After he turned his car around and drove back toward the gunshots, the Saturn headed toward him.
After a brief pursuit, Gilbert stopped the car and, with his gun drawn, ordered all of the occupants to reach their arms out of the car windows.
About three hours after the shooting, Homicide Detective Salvatore A. Valvo interviewed Mitchell at Police Headquarters.
Mitchell told the detective that he and his friends were on Guilford looking for a “weed house,” the detective testified.
Mitchell told the detective that he got out of the Saturn and then heard gunshots.
“All I heard was ‘pow, pow, pow,’ ” according to Mitchell’s statement to police, which Valvo read in court.
Mitchell told the detective he did not see anyone except a man standing on a porch.
“I heard the shots and started running back to the car,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s defense lawyer said Mitchell was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Someone shot Brian Chapman,” Addelman said. “Someone killed Brian Chapman. It was not Joshua Mitchell. No one saw Joshua Mitchell shoot anybody.”
Prosecutor Gary W. Hackbush told jurors that the evidence against Mitchell was convincing.
“After a brief chase, Officer Gilbert caught that cowardly killer,” Hackbush told jurors earlier this week.
Hackbush, who prosecuted Mitchell along with Assistant District Attorney John P. Gerken Jr., scoffed at Mitchell’s denial.
Mitchell stood on a sidewalk, raised the revolver, aimed it at Chapman and pulled the trigger “round after round after round.” Hackbush said.
“There’s only one person who gets out of that car: this defendant,” Hackbush said during his closing argument Thursday.
Don’t buy into a “phantom gunman” theory, Hackbush told jurors.
The gunshots startled Chapman’s partner, Furmond S. Bolden, who was in bed upstairs. Bolden said he looked out the bedroom window but could not see anyone.
“I ran down the stairs and looked out the front window,” Bolden said in court.
He saw Chapman’s legs. Chapman was leaning against the front door, unconscious.
Bolden then opened the front door, and “he fell into the house.”
“I had him in my arms as I called 911,” Bolden said.
“Brian’s life ended violently and senselessly in the arms of his weeping spouse,” Hackbush said.
In the Saturn’s trunk, police found a nearly full box of .38-caliber ammunition.