The Molly’s Pub manager accused of pushing a bar patron down a flight of stairs May 11 was arraigned today on new charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter.
Jeffrey Basil, 36, of Amherst, was ordered held without bail, more than three weeks after the victim died.
Basil pleaded not guilty to both charges and also a charge of tampering with evidence.
William Sager Jr., who suffered a devastating brain injury during the incident, died July 31.
Sager, 28, a New York Air National Guard crew chief who was engaged to be married this year, had been in a coma in the trauma intensive care unit at Erie County Medical Center since the incident in the Main Street bar.
Basil was previously arraigned on attempted murder, first-degree assault and tampering with evidence charges.
Following Sager’s death, the case was presented to a new Erie County grand jury to consider more serious charges.
Basil was arrested May 17 on a charge of first-degree assault, six days after he allegedly launched Sager down the stairs with a two-handed push without provocation, according to one witness.
He originally was held on $250,000 bail set by a City Court judge, but he was released after State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski reduced it to $35,000 in June at the request of Basil’s attorney, Joel Daniels.
At his July 25 arraignment on the lesser charges, State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang raised his bail to $75,000, which he later posted.
The tampering charge accuses Basil of removing a bar surveillance video and disposing of it in a trash bin behind Molly’s so that it could not be used as evidence against him. The video was recovered, according to police sources.
Wolfgang today ordered Basil held without bail, citing the murder charge. The charge carries a minimum prison sentence of 15 years to life in prison and a maximum term of 25 years to life. The manslaughter charge carries a sentence of up to 25 years behind bars.
The judge set Oct. 20 for a pretrial hearing and Jan. 5 for the trial.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher J. Belling recommended to the judge that she set no bail because of the elevated charges and life prison sentence facing Basil if he is convicted of murder.
He also cited Basil’s “checkered history as a thug.”
“He’s been a violent bully since 16,” the prosecutor said, citing a criminal record that includes drug and DWI convictions as well as a guilty plea to harassing the owner of a restaurant next to a Niagara Falls bar that Basil was managing in January 2013.
Daniels acknowledged Sager’s “untimely and unfortunate death.”
“Regardless of the charges, the facts are the same as before,” he said. “They haven’t changed.”
He said the murder charge alleges that his client intended to cause Sager’s death when he allegedly pushed him down the stairs, while the manslaughter charge alleges that Basil intended to cause serious physical injury to Sager, resulting in his eventual death.
“Intoxication can be a defense,” he told reporters outside the courtroom after the arraignment.
At Basil’s May 23 felony hearing in City Court, Buffalo Police Officer Adam E. O’Shei, who was working off-duty security outside the bar with fellow Officer Robert E. Eloff the night Sager was injured, testified that both Basil and Sager were drunk.
O’Shei also testified that he saw Basil give Sager a two-handed shove down the stairs without any provocation from Sager.
At today’s arraignment, Daniels told the judge the case involves a lot of unanswered questions.
“We have to wait for the trial for the answers,” he said.
Outside the courtroom, Daniels told reporters that some of those questions involve Eloff and O’Shei, both of whom have been suspended and face a hearing on departmental charges of acting in a manner unbecoming a police officer for their conduct that night.
He said Eloff refused to answer questions at Basil’s felony hearing, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
He added that O’Shei reportedly was seen in the bar’s basement office where the bar surveillance equipment was kept. Basil and Eloff also were seen there.