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LOCKPORT – Willie R. Scott Jr., who according to his attorney had vowed never to take a plea bargain, backed away from that position Monday and admitted he shot a 2-year-old girl in the face.

Scott, 33, of LaSalle Avenue, decided not to risk a life sentence as a persistent felon, which is what Niagara County Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said she would have sought had she won a conviction in a trial.

Instead, Scott pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree assault, a reduced charge.

The maximum sentence for that conviction is 15 years, but the sides agreed to a 10-year limit. Also, Hoffmann agreed not to seek to classify Scott as a persistent felon, which took the life sentence off the table.

Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III scheduled sentencing for Nov. 4.

Scott shot J’raeona Moore on Nov. 27 as she sat in a car parked outside the Hometown market on Pierce Avenue in Niagara Falls. Police believe Scott tried to shoot a man also in the car, but his aim proved faulty.

A witness said the shot came from another car.

The bullet remains lodged in the girl’s face. Hoffmann said at a prior court appearance that the victim has undergone several operations and faces more surgery in the future.

The conviction is Scott’s third felony count within 10 years, giving prosecutors the option of asking Murphy to declare Scott a persistent felon under New York’s version of the “three strikes” law.

He was previously convicted of drug-related crimes: fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance in 2004 and third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance in 2008.

“I know drug dealers who have gotten 12 years, so 10 years isn’t enough,” said Sharonda Platt, the girl’s mother.

“She was consulted. She approved of the plea before it happened,” Hoffmann said.

“I would rather go with the plea than have the chance he would walk away with nothing,” Platt said.

“This case was by no means a slam dunk for them,” defense attorney E. Earl Key said. “There was risk for them going to trial as well as us.”

Murphy asked Scott what he intended to shoot.

“I was shooting at a car, Your Honor,” Scott replied.

The judge did not ask Scott why he fired at the car

“We’ll explain everything at sentencing,” Key said.

The plea deal allows Scott to appeal a March 6 ruling by Murphy that removed Scott’s original attorney, Angelo Musitano, from the case because of a conflict of interest. Musitano had once represented Platt in a criminal case.

“The court made the decision without conducting a hearing, and (Musitano) thought it was a waivable conflict,” Key said.

Murphy said Platt, who would have testified at a trial, would have had to waive the conflict, too, and there was no indication she would have. The judge went along with Key’s promise that Scott would not appeal the conviction or the sentence, although Key said the plea would be overturned if an appellate court rules Murphy erred in removing Musitano.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com