Jeffrey Basil, the Molly’s Pub manager described by a prosecutor as a violent bully with “a checkered history as a thug,” was ordered held without bail Monday on new charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in an alleged attack on a bar patron May 11.
The charges were filed by an Erie County grand jury in a superseding indictment more than three weeks after the death of William Sager Jr., whom Basil allegedly pushed down a flight of stairs at the Main Street bar.
State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang ordered Basil held without bail, citing the new charges.
The murder count carries a minimum prison sentence of 15 years to life in prison and a maximum term of 25 years to life. The manslaughter count 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.
Basil, 36, of Amherst, pleaded not guilty to both charges and a charge of tampering with evidence for allegedly 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.
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 suffering a devastating brain injury in the alleged attack. He died July 31.
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.
Basil 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 Joel L. Daniels, Basil’s attorney.
He was indicted in July on charges of attempted murder, first-degree assault and tampering with evidence. He was arraigned July 25 before Wolfgang, who set bail at $75,000, which he later posted.
Following Sager’s death six days later, the case was presented to a new grand jury to consider more serious charges.
At Monday’s arraignment on the new charges, 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, with 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 unsuccessfully tried to convince the judge to continue his client on the $75,000 bail he posted last month – before Sager died.
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.”
After arraignment, Daniels told reporters that the murder charge alleges that Basil intended to kill Sager when he allegedly launched the victim down the stairs, while the manslaughter charge alleges that he intended to cause serious physical injury to Sager, resulting in his eventual death.
“Intoxication can be a defense,” he said.
Both Basil and Sager were drunk that night, Buffalo Police Officer Adam O’Shei testified at Basil’s May 23 felony hearing in City Court.
O’Shei, who was working off-duty security outside the bar with fellow Officer Robert E. Eloff, also testified that he saw Basil give Sager a two-handed shove down the stairs without any provocation from Sager.
Daniels told the judge Monday that 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.