Judge rejects dismissal request in Falls shooting case

·3 min read

May 17—A Niagara County Court judge has rejected a request to throw out the charges against a Falls man in connection with an April 2014 daylight shootout on Highland Avenue.

Judge Matthew J.Murphy III instead set a September trial date for Joachim Sylvester on attempted murder, assault and weapons possession counts.

Sylvester, 45, of the Falls, is free on $5,000 bail, after the Appellate Division Fourth Department of New York State Supreme Court ruled that Murphy had erred in allowing some evidence into his 2015 attempted murder trial. A five-judge panel of the Fourth Department court unanimously reversed Sylvester's conviction by a Niagara County Court jury and ordered that he be given a new trial.

Defense attorney Frank LoTempio had asked Murphy to instead dismiss the case against his client, citing the reasoning of the appeals court in overturning his client's original conviction.

A jury of eight women and four men had deliberated for just about three hours before finding Sylvester, a known Falls drug dealer and gang member, guilty of attempted murder and weapons charges in a brazen mid-day shooting incident in the center of Highland Avenue on April 17, 2014.

The key evidence in the case was video, captured by security cameras on the front of a convenience store, that showed a man, identified by police and prosecutors as Sylvester, firing shots from a handgun at another man. The video showed the victim arriving in front of the store and engaging in conversations with several people.

The victim could also be seen speaking to someone inside a black SUV parked in front of the store.

As the victim stood in the street, the video showed a silver SUV driving up, with the driver of that vehicle pointing a handgun out of the window. The victim, who was in a direct line of fire from the handgun, can then be seen running away.

A fraction of a second later, bystanders can be seen scattering in every direction as the driver of the silver SUV exits his vehicle. The gunman then chases the victim, firing shots at him repeatedly.

The victim is seen diving into another SUV that attempts to speed off, but instead slaloms down Highland Avenue, smashing head-on into another black SUV parked in front of the convenience store.

The gunman, identified as Sylvester, returns to the silver SUV and drives away from the scene.

The appeals court judges, in their decision, pointedly rejected the arguments of Sylvester's attorneys that the jury verdict "was against the weight of the evidence."

But the judges said Murphy had "erred by permitting the prosecutor in the case to present evidence of a prior, uncharged shooting that allegedly involved Sylvester under the theory that defense counsel had "opened the door" to such evidence." The judges ordered a new trial for Sylvester as " a matter of discretion in the interest of justice."

The shooting incident occurred one month after Murphy had dismissed narcotics charges lodged against Sylvester.

That case involved an encounter between Sylvester and Falls Police narcotics detectives in May 2013. The detectives stopped Sylvester and two Buffalo men with street gang connections and found them in possession of marijuana, pills and counterfeit cash.

Investigators seized more than seven pounds of pot, 27 Opana pills and $1,200 in counterfeit bills.

The charges were dismissed after Murphy ruled that police stopped the SUV Sylvester was driving because of "racial profiling." Murphy called the traffic stop of Sylvester, and the two other men, a case of "driving while Black."

Murphy sentenced Sylvester to 25 years behind bars for the attempted murder conviction and an additional 15 years on the weapons possession charge after his original trial. Those sentences were running concurrently.

Sylvester has already served six and a half years of that sentence. Prosecutors said they have made a plea offer to Sylvester in this case.