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A South Buffalo man was convicted Monday night of murder in the stabbing death of his grandmother and first-degree assault in the wounding of his grandfather.

Merle Steele Jr. faces a maximum term of 30 years to life. He also was convicted of four counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

Defense attorney Leigh E. Anderson had urged jurors to convict Steele on lesser charges because of his proven drug addiction and history of schizophrenia.

She also cited his troubled upbringing in an infamous South Buffalo "family of outlaws."

The jury deliberated just five hours before returning the guilty verdict.

Steele, 21, watched the proceedings on a video monitor from an adjoining courtroom. He was removed from court on the first day of the trial when he fondled himself in front of the jury, spit at the judge, tried to eat a
plastic water cup and kept using expletives to denounce Ms. Anderson.

Steele admitted to the Sept. 7, 1995, attacks at the Littell Avenue home he shared with his paternal grandparents.

Ruth Steele, 63, died after she was slashed in the throat, and Albert Steele, who died Jan. 2 of a heart attack at age 67, lost his right ear.

Steele has been in jail since he was taken into custody at the home of a neighbor shortly after the attacks. He was returned to jail to await sentencing.

His grandparents had custody of Steele since he was 18 months old, after his mother moved to Georgia and his father went to prison in 1977.

The victims' five sons, including Steele's father, were known in the 1970s as South Buffalo's "Steele Brothers Gang" because of their more than 100 arrests on various offenses.

Last week, Steele's father, Merle Sr., and three uncles told the jury the defendant was a "goofy" kid who used to talk to television sets. They also said he was fed drugs and was taken on stealing excursions.

Ms. Anderson argued that Steele is incapable mentally of forming a criminal "intent" to kill or seriously injure someone. She said that Steele has never been "a likable kid, even on his best days."

She said he has a history of drug addiction and schizophrenic behavior and has been getting government disability checks since 1992 as a diagnosed drug abuser.

Prosecutors Frank A. Sedita III and Lynn Wessel presented evidence that Steele recently told psychiatrists he stabbed his grandparents because they wouldn't give him any more money for drugs and didn't love him.

Law enforcement sources said that the night before the fatal attack, Steele had used his government disability payments to rent a limousine to go out and buy drugs.

Dr. John Treanor, the prosecution psychiatrist, told the jury Steele is sane but has a "severe anti-social personality disorder." Dr. Brian Joseph, the defense psychiatrist, said Steele is a schizophrenic.

In urging Steele's conviction on lesser charges, Ms. Anderson noted that one of the first police officers who saw the wounded Mrs. Steele sitting on her porch after the attack, heard her say, "I can't believe what happened."

Ms. Anderson said that convicting Steele of manslaughter would be a "truthful" verdict and "would certainly serve justice" because he would still face a prison term of 15 to 25 years and his addiction and mental problems could be treated in prison.

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