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A dishwasher who fatally shot one co-worker and wounded another at a downtown Delaware Avenue restaurant more than three years ago was found mentally ill and not responsible for his crimes by a judge Tuesday.

State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns ordered Ernesto Arechavaleta-Taureaux committed to the care of the state mental health commissioner for evaluation and treatment at a state psychiatric facility.

Arechavaleta-Taureaux could spend the rest of his life in a psychiatric institution. A hearing must still be held to determine if he is severely dangerous and mentally ill and should be kept in such a facility.

Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III agreed to the plea but said he is not pleased with it.

“It’s what the law requires when a defendant is criminally insane,” Sedita said. “There were no other options.”

At the hearing, Sedita said psychiatric experts for the defendant and the prosecution concluded that at the time of the shootings Arechavaleta-Taureaux had a delusional disorder and did not understand the wrongfulness of his conduct. As a result, he is not responsible for his actions on Jan. 10, 2010, at Merge restaurant, where he worked as a dishwasher.

Sedita told Burns the defendant’s delusions “center around the false belief that there is a mafia, supported by powerful co-conspirators, engaging in the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children.”

He said the shooter believed the mafia targeted him because he was speaking out against the exploitation of children and that they wanted to silence him by kidnapping and killing him.

“In the defendant’s deluded mind, the victims were trying to harm and/or subdue him with the intention of delivering him to the mafia,” Sedita told the judge. “The defendant shot or shot at the victims in an effort to defend himself.”

Arechavaleta-Taureaux, 54, formerly of Porter Avenue, pleaded not responsible to second-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder. A weapons possession charge was dismissed as part of the plea.

Under questioning by the judge, Arechavaleta-Taureaux, a native of Cuba, admitted through an interpreter that he shot and killed Ricky Costner Jr., 18, the restaurant’s sous-chef.

He also admitted he tried to kill Costner’s father, Rick Costner Sr., who managed the restaurant, and Daniel Church, the head chef, when he fired at them. The senior Costner was shot twice in the chest. Church, who helped disarm the shooter, was not wounded.

Sedita said he met last week with Costner’s father and his wife to explain the plea.

“Mr. Costner saw his son die before his eyes,” Sedita said. “I can’t imagine what that was like.”

“I feel horrible for them,” he said. “They want to see the defendant go to prison for the rest of his life. We will work to ensure that he stays in a state psychiatric center for the rest of his life.”

The parents attended the hearing.

Arechavaleta-Taureaux spent three years in the Central New York Psychiatric Center near Utica.

“The next issue is for the court to determine whether he is still severely dangerous and mentally ill” and should be kept at a state psychiatric center, Sedita said.

email: jstaas@buffnews.com