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Cory L. Epps was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison today for what a judge called the "execution" of Tamika Means during a "road rage" incident last spring on a Buffalo street.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. McCarthy imposed the maximum term after refusing a defense request to set aside Epps' April 24 conviction and grant a new trial.

Attorneys for Epps, 26, of North Division Street, had pushed authorities to continue investigating the case, maintaining that the real killer is still at large.

In response, McCarthy urged prosecutors to "make sure justice has been done in this case."

The judge noted that the case against Epps is based solely on uncorroborated identification by Jacqueline Bradley, 25, the front-seat passenger in Ms. Means car.

But he said Epps' post-conviction claims are based only on "suggestions and surmise" and are "just too tenuous" to affect the conviction.

Epps has been jailed since Ms. Bradley picked him out of a lineup last June 30 as the man who shot Ms. Means, 23, of Barbara Lane, Cheektowaga, last May 26 at the intersection of East Delavan Avenue and Chelsea Place.

Epps still proclaimed his innocence today and acknowledged that he knew Ms. Means.

"I know I didn't kill her," he told the judge. "I feel sorry for her family, but I didn't do it. I had no reason to kill her. The Lord knows that I didn't do it and a lot of people know I couldn't commit this crime."

Epps said his conviction "shocked" him, and insisted he had cooperated with police in their investigation.

"I just don't understand why this happened to me," he added.

McCarthy delayed sentencing eight days ago amid defense claims of new leads pointing to the real killer.

But today he told Andrew C. LoTempio, Epps' attorney, that the claims of an anonymous woman that a man who is a fugitive in another Buffalo murder killed Ms. Means are "at best, second- or third-hand hearsay."

Both in court and afterward, an obviously-troubled LoTempio insisted police never followed up on leads to see if a man he identified as Russell Montgomery, who looks like Epps, shot Ms. Means.

Both Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark and Deputy District Attorney Lawrence M. Schwegler declined to comment on LoTempio's claims that Constance Ferguson, Montgomery's live-in girlfriend, drove the car involved in the Means murder.

LoTempio also claimed Russell Montgomery is a fugitive in the killing of a Paul Pope, 30, of Kofler Street, whose body was found April 16 in the trunk of his car on Kay Street near Eggert Road. LoTempio told the court he suspects that Montgomery, who lived on Durham Avenue, which is around the corner from the scene of the Means murder, killed Pope, because Pope was telling people Montgomery had "bragged" last year about killing Ms. Means.

The defense attorney said authorities have ignored evidence pointing toward Montgomery in the Means case. But the judge noted an anonymous letter LoTempio gave him last week had factual "inconsistencies" about both the color of the car used by Ms. Means' killer and the clothing her killer wore.

Outside the courtroom, Charlotte Coston, Epps' mother, and his sister, Michelle Mazyck, insisted the real killer of Ms. Means is still at large.

"That man is walking on the streets, and he can kill again," Ms. Mazyck said.

As he was taken from court by sheriff's deputies, Epps told his family members: "The Lord's going to take care of it. Don't worry about it, you all."

Court sources confirmed that Epps got a youthful offender plea deal on reduced charges in a 1990 Buffalo rape and had been placed on probation for a 1993 drug arrest.

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