Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said his decision not to seek a first-degree murder charge against the man who shot Buffalo Police Officer Patricia A. Parete in 2006 was based partly on the late officer’s own wishes.
A high-ranking Police Department official also encouraged Sedita not to reopen the case against Varner Harris Jr.
Parete’s death was classified a homicide after she died earlier this year.
“I am told that Patti did not want Harris to be re-prosecuted in the event of her death and the reasons for that decision,” Sedita said in a letter to her father, Anthony Parete. “You, as well as all her other loved ones, have also advised me not to reopen this case and the reasons for that recommendation.”
Harris already is serving a sentence of 30 years to life in prison for shooting Parete and her partner, Officer Carl E. Andolina, upon his guilty plea to two counts of first-degree attempted murder.
Sedita, in his letter to Parete’s father, called his decision one of the most difficult he has made as a prosecutor. He said he listened to the “thoughts, opinions and feelings of several people, including those who knew Patti best over the last few years, in the hopes of making a just and appropriate decision.”
The district attorney said that perhaps the soundest counsel he received came from the high-ranking Buffalo police official, whom he did not identify. “His advice to me was as follows: Given the remote possibility that Harris will ever be released from prison, I should abide by the wishes of Patti’s family and loved ones,” Sedita said.
Parete, who was under hospice care, died Feb. 2 in her Niagara County home. The medical examiner did not perform an autopsy, based on her family’s wishes, and her body was cremated.
“The medical examiner nevertheless determined the manner of her death was homicidal due to the effects of her severe gunshot wounds,” Sedita said in the letter.
If there were a new trial, the prosecution would have to prove the shooting was at least a “significant contributing factor” in Parete’s death at 48.
She was shot twice during a struggle on the night of Dec. 5, 2006, when she and Andolina responded to a fight call at West Chippewa Street and Whitney Place. The second bullet severely damaged her spine, causing paralysis.
In the event Harris ever were prosecuted on a murder charge, there could be one of several outcomes, Sedita said:
• If convicted of first-degree murder, he could be sentenced to life without parole.
• He could be given 20 years to life.
• He could be convicted of a lesser offense, such as manslaughter.
• He could be found not guilty.
Under his current sentence, Harris will not be eligible for parole until 2037. Harris, now 25, is an inmate in the state’s Great Meadow Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Comstock, Washington County.
“Given the nature of his crime, his criminal history, and the sentencing recommendation of the presiding judge, it is highly unlikely that Harris will ever be released from state prison,” Sedita said.
Sedita said he would reconsider his decision if Harris ever successfully appeals his attempted-murder conviction.