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LOCKPORT – A hearing will be held Thursday on a defense effort to have Timothy C. DePetris, the Niagara Falls businessman accused of shooting his brother-in-law and then trying to hire a hit man to finish the job, released from solitary confinement in the Niagara County Jail.

County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas scheduled the hearing after defense attorney E. Earl Key insisted that placing DePetris in a regular cell would not necessarily mean lifting the judge’s order cutting off his communications privileges.

Key said that his client lacks access to the jail’s law library and its Internet connection to the Lexis legal database. “It’s harming his defense,” Key said.

Farkas wasn’t keen on the idea because DePetris is accused of using the phones to try to set up a contract with a hit man to kill Sandro Viola, DePetris’ brother-in-law and owner of another Niagara Falls company.

“How am I going to put him back in the general (jail) population when the last time he was there, he allegedly committed a crime?” Farkas asked.

Key said it would be possible to place DePetris in a cell located so that guards could have a close look at him anytime he tried to go to the phone.

Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann disagreed with Key’s assertion, and Farkas ordered testimony from jail officials about the layout.

Also Friday, Farkas ruled that everything about the traffic stop that led to DePetris’ arrest March 30 was legal and that the statements the defendant made and the items found inside the pickup truck, primarily a small arsenal of guns and ammunition, will be available as evidence at the trial, which has been put off from Jan. 6 to Feb. 3.

Detective Patrick Stack, who had word DePetris was living in the hotel at Seneca Niagara Casino and was seen in a purple Dodge Ram, saw such a vehicle pull out of a space in the casino parking lot at about 6 a.m. March 30. He followed the truck and saw it stop quickly in the 1500 block of Pierce Avenue, an area known for crime and drug dealing.

A blonde woman ran out of a house that Stack said he had visited during a past drug investigation. The woman exchanged something with the driver and ran back inside.

Stack stopped the truck, driven by Michael Craig of the Falls, who said he was out “scrapping.” Then DePetris, the passenger, introduced himself to bolster that story. But after patting down DePetris, he found a hard object in a pocket. DePetris said it was a cellphone, but it turned out to be a magazine full of rifle bullets.

He also found a Beretta handgun hanging from a shoelace around DePetris’ neck.

DePetris, 44, allegedly shot Viola at the latter’s office on Hyde Park Boulevard in the Falls on March 26. The Feb. 3 trial deals only with the shooting and weapons charges; a second trial on the hit man charges has yet to be scheduled.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com