An alleged counterfeit money operation and drugs are among the possible motives that police are investigating in the execution-style slaying of four people Saturday night on Koons Avenue, police and family members said Monday.
The investigation also has revealed that the two alleged killers were frequent visitors to the home, considered by some to be almost like family.
Robert "Little Man" Brown, 40, and his niece, Tonisha Brown, 26, were shot to death at their home at 320 Koons, along with two visitors, Gregory Conwell, 42, and Stacie Guest, 39.
Tonisha Brown's 8-year-old daughter suffered a gunshot wound to her right pinkie finger when she apparently was caught in a cross fire.
Arrested on four counts each of second-degree murder are Domenick Sutton, 21, of Boyd Street, and Justin Thompson, 24, of Butler Street.
Family members said Sutton and Thompson were friends of the Brown family for years. Police said Sutton was a known member of the Bloods gang.
Sutton, wearing a white jumpsuit, appeared at a brief arraignment hearing before City Judge Debra L. Givens on Monday morning.
Sutton showed no emotion and mostly nodded and shook his head when he was asked questions. He entered a plea of not guilty and was denied bail. He is scheduled to appear at a felony hearing Friday.
Sitting in the courtroom was Conwell's fiancee, Regina Suddith, who is expecting the couple's first child May 31.
"I'm just feeling really disgusted right now, and I want to make sure that (the killers) get what they deserve," Suddith said moments after the court proceeding, as she wiped tears from her face. "It was just senseless. He was a good man. He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time."
She said her boyfriend of two years grew up in Buffalo and worked full time as a cashier and laborer at Dunn's Market & Bakery at Fillmore and Glenwood avenues. The father of two sons, he was a devout Muslim who spoke fluent Arabic.
Thompson turned himself in to homicide investigators Monday morning. He pleaded not guilty and was denied bail at an arraignment hearing this morning before City Judge Debra L. Givens. A felony hearing was scheduled for Friday.
Several law enforcement officials are exploring various theories about a motive, including the suspects' alleged connection to counterfeit money. They say they also are investigating possible ties to the drug world.
Secret Service interested
"The Secret Service definitely had some suspicions that (Robert Brown) was involved in passing counterfeit money," said one police source close to the investigation. "We've been told he paid the shooters for drugs with counterfeit money."
However, police emphasized that they have not yet verified whether Robert Brown purchased drugs with counterfeit cash.
"It's too early to speculate on a motive," said Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina. "We've heard a number of things."
Robin Lynette-Brown, whose daughter Tonisha and brother Robert were killed, said her Koons Avenue home was not a drug house.
"There were no drugs being sold at my house. If this is drug-related, it's not at my house," said Lynette-Brown, who lived in the first-floor apartment with her daughter and her daughter's three children: a son, 10, and two daughters, ages 8 years and 11 months.
"I believe my brother might have been dibbling and dabbling in drugs; maybe he was a middle man, but nothing too deep. . . . And he wasn't making any counterfeit (money)."
She said that Secret Service officials interviewed her daughter twice -- once last month and again early this month -- about counterfeit money and that federal agents mentioned Justin Thompson's name during their conversations.
"I think (Sutton and Thompson) thought that Tonisha was giving the Secret Service information," Lynette-Brown said.
"They took her in for questioning. . . . They took the computer out of my house thinking that counterfeit money was being made, but they realized that we weren't making any money (on the computer). I don't even have a printer."
For years, Sutton and Thompson visited the Brown home, spending time with members of the entire household, but mostly visiting Tonisha Brown, according to her mother.
Sutton and Thompson would eat their food, joke with them and play video games with Tonisha's children, Lynette-Brown said.
They would even sleep over, spending three and four days at a time, family members said.
"They were like family," Lynette-Brown said. "We broke bread together, lived together, laughed together, played together. . . . How could you come in here with guns and kill my family?"
Lynette-Brown said she has known Thompson since he was about 9 and Sutton since he was 16 or 17.
In January 1999, Robert Brown and about 25 others were arrested by federal agents in a case involving David "Dave Dog" Williams, considered Buffalo's biggest cocaine dealer at the time.
Federal prosecutors said Brown recently completed three years' probation for his role in the drug case. Williams is serving a life term in federal prison.
Brown was considered "a very minor player" in the case, according to Joseph M. Guerra III, chief of the narcotics and violent crime division of the U.S. attorney's office.
"Brown pleaded guilty to using a telephone to arrange one felony drug transaction," Guerra said. "On Feb. 15, 2002, he was sentenced to three years on probation, and he completed his term of probation in February."
At this point in the investigation, Guerra said, the Saturday slayings appear to be "totally unrelated" to the drug case.
Attorney John J. Molloy, who represented Brown in his federal drug case, called the Navy veteran a "very nice, very affable man" who struggled at times with crack cocaine.
"He wasn't a major drug user or dealer. He was a guy who smoked crack cocaine to deal with stressful situations, like the death of his father a couple of years ago," Malloy said.
Meanwhile, the families of the four victims were trying to cope with the loss of their loved ones.
Lynette-Brown has been left to care for her daughter's three children. She said her grandchildren have been traumatized. Her older granddaughter was struck by a bullet, her grandson witnessed the gunfire and her younger granddaughter was found sitting beside her mother's body.
"(Sunday night) my 10-year-old grandson said he couldn't sleep until they were caught. He was so scared that he didn't fall asleep until 2 a.m.," she said.
"My 8-year-old granddaughter was sedated after she was shot. I'm scared for her the most because she's not talking at all."
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