After more than five hours of deliberations Wednesday, a Niagara County Court jury found a Town of Niagara man not guilty of first-degree gang assault in the fatal mistaken-identity beating of a Lancaster man.
David F. Kennerknecht, 23, of Petroleum Street, is the only one of the five co-defendants who has been acquitted in the case.
Nicholas A. Kwasniewski was beaten June 4 in front of a home at 610 19th St., Niagara Falls, and died the next day. His attackers were looking for Nicholas Payne of Grand Island, who allegedly beat up one of the suspects, Shane W. Craft, 19, of Petroleum Street.
Craft, also of Petroleum Street, was convicted by a jury Jan. 26 on the same charge. Craft initiated, then continued the attack, even after he realized he was beating up the wrong man, according to authorities.
Three others pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Craft and Kennerknecht in exchange for leniency in sentencing.
Two Niagara Falls men -- James A. Reed Jr., 18, of Hyde Park Boulevard, and Charles J. Maggadino, 25, of Dudley Avenue -- have been promised sentences of no more than 20 years. The first man to plead guilty, Paul R. Dawson, 21, of Lockport Road, Town of Niagara, received the maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Maggadino and Dawson testified against Kennerknecht.
Just before announcing the verdict, the jury asked for a read-back of testimony by Dawson, who said Kennerknecht was one of three men who kicked Kwasniewski in the head when he was down. Dawson said he did not participate in kicking Kwasniewski.
During his cross-examination, defense attorney Joel L. Daniels tried to show that Dawson had reason to deflect his guilt in the death of Kwasniewski, pointing out that Dawson wore formidable work boots during the kicking attack on the victim.
Kennerknecht testified that he was at the scene but did not participate in the attack. If found guilty, he could have faced up to 25 years in prison.