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LOCKPORT – Willie R. Scott Jr., the Niagara Falls man charged with shooting a 2-year-old girl in the face while he was allegedly trying to shoot someone else, rejected a plea offer Tuesday and now runs the risk of a life sentence if he is convicted.

“This is going to trial,” defense attorney E. Earl Key vowed after Scott’s court appearance before Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III.

Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann offered Scott a plea to a Class C violent felony with a maximum 15-year prison sentence.

She warned Scott that if he is convicted at trial, scheduled to begin Sept. 23, he will face much worse. She said the District Attorney’s Office will seek a declaration of persistent felon status because of two previous felony convictions on Scott’s record.

“If he were to lose, he would be looking at 25 years, or, if the court finds him persistent, a life sentence,” Hoffmann said.

Key shrugged off the threat.

“If he gets 25 years, his life would be essentially over, so 25 to life would make no difference,” Key told Murphy.

Scott, 33, of LaSalle Avenue, pleaded guilty in 2003 to fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and in 2008 to third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance.

He is charged with the Nov. 27 shooting of a girl as she sat in a car with a man in front of the Hometown Market on Pierce Avenue in Niagara Falls.

Police said the man was the target of a shot fired from another car, but the round struck the girl.

“She was shot in the face. The bullet went through her nose and lodged near her brain,” Hoffmann said. “She underwent several surgeries and still has more to go.”

Key, whose effort to get the charges dismissed on a grand jury procedural technicality was squelched by Murphy on Aug. 5, attempted to reopen that issue Tuesday.

Key noted that Murphy had mentioned in his decision on the dismissal motion that witness Timothy Ellison didn’t sign a statement to police that he didn’t know if the shots came from another car or who was in that auto. Ellison later changed his story and, before the grand jury, identified Scott as the shooter.

Key said he received an incomplete copy of Ellison’s first statement and later received a second one that was signed. Hoffmann acknowledged that mistake but said, “I don’t think it affects the legal outcome.”

Murphy said, “I don’t think it does, either.” But he asked the sides to return to court for a final pretrial conference Sept. 9.

Murphy said that is the last day he will accept a guilty plea from Scott. Hoffmann said she intends to present a motion seeking to use Scott’s criminal record against him at the trial.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com