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Sentence set in gunfight that took the life of a bystander

A Buffalo man whose robbery attempt last year led to a gunfight with a police officer whose bullet killed a bystander was sentenced Thursday to 25 years to life in prison.

Mario J. Pittman, 32, said nothing during his appearance before Senior Erie County Judge Michael L. D'Amico for attempted murder. The judge said he was imposing the maximum allowable sentence because of Pittman's "history of violence and disregard for the law."

In front of Pittman's mother and a courtroom filled with friends and relatives of the late Amber Marie Keller, the judge sarcastically told Pittman "you've reached the top" as a persistent violent felony offender. Pittman's crimes date to his teen years.

Deputy District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, the chief prosecutor in the case, called Pittman a "career criminal."

Defense attorney Joseph Terranova said he will file appeal papers challenging the jury verdict Nov. 21 in which Pittman was found guilty of first-degree attempted murder and weapons charges for trying to kill Buffalo Police Officer Thomas P. English.

Keller, 20, was killed by a shot fired by English, who was exchanging gunfire with Pittman in the early morning of April 7. Pittman had fired at another man, Gregory Braswell, 30, during an apparent robbery attempt, which English spotted.

Keller was struck in the head as she sat at a table in a friend's Genesee Street flat near the scene. She never regained consciousness before dying May 14 at the Center for Hospice & Palliative Care in Cheektowaga.

During the trial, English testified that he exchanged gunfire with Pittman "because he was trying to kill me."

In December, Keller's parents filed suit against the city for her wrongful death by a police officer's bullet.

After the sentencing, Sedita said Pittman could not be indicted on criminal charges directly linked to the death of Ms. Keller because such charges "would not have been legally sustainable" in court given the circumstances of the incident.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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