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LOCKPORT – Darius M. Belton, of Niagara Falls, rejected a plea offer Wednesday in the shooting death of his uncle, and the case appears ready to go to trial April 17 in Niagara County Court.

Belton, 18, is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon in the Sept. 25 slaying of Luis A. Ubiles, 37, who lived next door to Belton on South Avenue. The killing allegedly followed an argument between Ubiles and Belton’s mother, who is married to the victim’s brother.

Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said she had offered Belton a chance to plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter with a sentencing cap of 20 years.

Defense attorney Angelo Musitano said, “We preferred the second count [the weapons charge], which would have been a cap of 15 years. We understand the people are under no obligation to offer a plea that we want.”

Hoffmann said that if Belton is convicted as charged, he could be sentenced to as long as 40 years to life in prison, saying the sentence for the weapons count could be added consecutively to the 25 years to life that is the murder maximum.

However, Musitano is challenging the weapons count’s validity, arguing that Ubiles possessed the gun at his home, which would not be a crime if the gun itself were legal. Hoffmann said Belton was standing on his front porch when he shot Ubiles; the legal question is whether the porch is part of the home.

Musitano also has said he may argue at the trial that Belton acted in self-defense, because Ubiles allegedly was running toward Belton.

Wednesday, Detective John Conti testified about the identification of Belton in a photo array viewed Oct. 9 in Hoffmann’s office by witness Craig Mathis, who made the initial 911 call to police. Mathis said the shooter was a man he knew from the neighborhood who was called “Drizz,” which police say is Belton’s nickname.

Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas said Mathis’ identification of Belton will be admissible at the trial. She also said she will rule on Musitano’s objection to the weapons count before the final pretrial conference April 12.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com