A Mollys Pub patron seriously injured when the bar manager allegedly pushed him down the stairs more than two months ago is still in a coma and could die, a prosecutor told a judge Friday.
“This case is a minute away from becoming a murder case,” Assistant District Attorney Christopher J. Belling said at bar manager Jeffrey Basil’s arraignment on charges of second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault and tampering with evidence.
If William C. Sager II dies, Basil could face a life prison sentence, the prosecutor told State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang.
Sager, 28, an Air National Guard member, suffered a brain injury in the May 11 incident and remains in serious condition in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Erie County Medical Center.
Basil, 36, of Amherst, who had been out on $35,000 bail on the original first-degree assault charge, pleaded not guilty to the indictment filed last week charging him with assault and the two new counts of attempted murder and tampering.
The judge raised his bail to $75,000, which he was expected to post later Friday.
In another development, the State Liquor Authority has moved to cancel or revoke the liquor license for the bar on Main Street in the University Heights neighborhood.
The SLA on Thursday charged the bar’s licensee, Norman Habib of Eden, one of the principals of NHJB Inc., with eight violations of state liquor law and SLA rules, including five violations involving Basil and the May 11 assault.
It accused Habib of permitting the bar to become disorderly on that date, failing to list Basil on the license as a person with a financial interest in the bar dating to Jan. 8, and submitting false statements on the license application on funding for and/or investors in the bar by not listing Basil.
It also accused Habib of permitting Buffalo police officers to work off-duty security at the bar and failing to conform with government regulations requiring that security guards be certified by the state Department of State.
Another violation involves failing to conform with all representations set forth in the application – Habib’s claims that the licensee would operate a full kitchen and would not employ security guards.
The other two violations stem from failing to offer food service in violation of SLA rules.
The SLA gave the licensee until 10 a.m. Aug. 13 to respond.
In raising Basil’s bail to $75,000, Wolfgang cited the three-count indictment, including the new charges of attempted murder and tampering.
She said the attempted murder charge, which is the same level of felony as first-degree assault, is nevertheless a higher charge that carries serious consequences if the defendant is convicted – a prison sentence of up to 25 years.
Belling had asked the judge to set bail at $500,000 in light of the new charges, which allege that Basil tried to kill Sager when he allegedly pushed him down the stairs.
The allegation is that Basil attempted to cause the death of the victim by “launching him down the stairs,” according to District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, who announced the indictment last week.
Joel L. Daniels. Basil’s attorney, citing witness testimony that both Basil and Sager were intoxicated, said his client did not intend to kill Sager. He told reporters outside the courtroom after the arraignment that intoxication may affect a person’s ability to form an intent.
The tampering charge accuses Basil of removing a bar surveillance video and disposing of it in a trash bin behind Mollys so that it could not be used as evidence against him. The video was recovered, according to police sources.
Basil initially had been held on $250,000 bail set by a City Court judge who ordered him held for the grand jury following a May 23 felony hearing.
But last month, State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski lowered the bail to $35,000, after Daniels questioned the felony assault charge and asked that bail be reduced to a reasonable amount.
Basil posted the lower bail and was released.
At Friday’s arraignment, Belling argued for setting bail at $500,000, citing the new charges and other factors.
He said Basil is not above trying to manipulate the criminal justice system, noting his removal of the bar surveillance video that contained evidence of a crime.
He also noted that after launching Sager down the stairs, Basil went outside the bar and told an off-duty Buffalo police officer working security to arrest Sager, accusing Sager of assaulting him.
Belling also alleged that before Basil was arrested May 17 and charged in the case, he had a friend posing as a police officer call a witness and ask him what he was going to testify to.
During that same time period, Basil called some Buffalo police officers he knew to find out what was going to happen next in the case, the prosecutor said.
“He has no respect for the criminal justice system,” Belling said.
The prosecutor cited Basil’s criminal record, which 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.
He added that Basil’s Amherst home is for sale and that he owns property in Florida.
Daniels told the judge that the attempted murder charge is the same level of felony as the assault charge. “It doesn’t matter how you label the charges – attempted murder or assault – it’s not going to change the facts in the case,” he said.
He noted that at the 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 and that Sager was swaying, stumbling and aggressively pushing his way through other people.
The defense attorney also cited a report by a Buffalo police captain who said O’Shei told him that Sager was very intoxicated and starting trouble at the bar. O’Shei denied making that statement. He also testified that he saw Basil give Sager a two-handed shove down the stairs without any provocation from Sager.
Both O’Shei and Eloff, who refused to answer questions at the felony hearing citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, have been suspended and face a hearing on departmental charges of acting in a manner unbecoming a police officer for their conduct that night.
Daniels noted that Basil was initially charged with assault with depraved indifference to human life but now is charged with intentional assault.
“Prosecutors couldn’t prove depraved indifference, so they changed their theory to intentional assault,” he said. “They claim the stairway is a dangerous instrument. That may be a major league stretch.”
He described Mollys Pub as a hard-core gin mill with two types of patrons at 2 a.m. – drunk or almost drunk.
“This was a reckless situation,” he said, suggesting that less serious charges of second-degree assault or reckless endangerment would be more appropriate.