A 19-year-old Buffalo man who avoided a conviction on an attempted-murder charge earlier this year when the victim recanted her testimony was found guilty Monday of second-degree murder in a separate shooting case.
A jury of six men and six women deliberated about 2½ hours before finding Damone Lewis guilty of gunning down Jeremy Thomas, 21, in broad daylight two summers ago.
Lewis lowered his head to the table and leaned back in his chair, as State Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang thanked jurors for their service. He then took a sip of water and clasped his hands together.
Some of his friends and family members left the courtroom sobbing.
“This is an extraordinarily vicious defendant who tried to game the system and who has lost,” said Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III.
Thomas was struck in the head, side and buttocks on Aug. 8, 2012, and Erie County Chief Medical Examiner Tara Mahar testified that any one of those wounds could have been fatal. Thomas died in Erie County Medical Center two weeks after the shooting on Sumner Street on the city’s East Side.
Lewis also was charged in the Aug. 30, 2012, shooting that left 15-year-old Angelica Soto paralyzed. She identified Lewis as the shooter shortly after the incident. A nationwide manhunt led to Lewis’ apprehension by the U.S. Marshal’s Service on Nov. 5, 2012.
At one point, Lewis pleaded guilty to shooting Angelica. But when it came time to sentence him in January, she changed her story and said Lewis was not the shooter.
Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio allowed Lewis to withdraw his guilty plea, even though prosecutors argued that Lewis tried to intimidate the key witness. Lewis is scheduled to go to trial on the attempted- murder charge in October.
During the Thomas murder trial, which included a criminal weapons charge, a girlfriend and a friend of Lewis both testified that Lewis took credit for fatally shooting Thomas.
Shakeena Butler, a second girlfriend of Lewis who was under subpoena to testify on behalf of the prosecution, was brought to the witness stand twice during the trial and refused to answer any questions, even after State Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang warned her that she would be held in contempt of court and face imprisonment of up to a year.
Butler was involved in a fight with Soto that law enforcement officials said led Lewis to shoot the girl on Wood Street.
Prosecutors contended that Lewis shot Thomas in an effort to collect a $2,500 bounty offered by another man, Derek Beard, whom Thomas allegedly shot in the buttocks during a dice game July 27, 2012, on Brinkman Street.
Shakeem Pierce, a friend of the defendant, testified Lewis told him that Beard had offered $2,500 for “Jeremy’s head” and that “I’m going to collect.”
Pierce also said he saw Lewis after the shooting, when Lewis made a slashing motion with his hands across his neck.
“He was like, it’s over, it’s done,” Pierce recalled. “He was like, ‘I shot him. I seen him. I said a couple words to him and I shot him.’ ”
A third witness told jurors she saw Thomas get shot as he walked along Sumner with a pizza box in his hand.
The eyewitness, Brianna Johnson, identified Lewis as the culprit.
But defense attorney Joseph Agro said Johnson’s testimony was not credible because she came to authorities with information only after she faced a gun possession charge and possible imprisonment herself.
Agro also argued that at 5 feet, 6 inches tall, Lewis could not possibly have fired a shot to the head of the 6-foot-1-inch tall Thomas, as Johnson had described.
Lewis will face prison term of 25 years to life in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 12.