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Man gets 20 years in death of 81-year-old woman

Shawn B. Witkop, who pleaded guilty in an 81-year-old woman's death, was sentenced to 20 years in state prison Friday by Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza.

Witkop's attorney, Assistant Public Defender A. Joseph Catalano, tried to portray the death of Lynn Aswad as an accident, but Sperrazza wasn't buying it.

Aswad fell or was pushed down the basement stairs of her home on Wyoming Avenue in Niagara Falls on May 11 and died from her injuries four days later.

Witkop, 38, of Townsend Place, Niagara Falls, claimed he opened the basement door and accidentally knocked the woman down the stairs.

"It wasn't an accident, and I'll tell you how I know that," Sperrazza said. "If you had come into that house and seen her as a total innocent, you would have called [the police]. Mr. Witkop, you need to admit to yourself what your responsibility is."

The victim's son-in-law, Thomas Vitello of Niagara Falls, read the court a statement composed by his wife, Pam.

It denounced Witkop for "leaving my mother broken, bleeding and battered at the bottom of a flight of stairs and stealing her wallet and phone receivers so even if she were to reach the phone, she would not be able to get help."

Witkop was originally indicted on murder charges but pleaded guilty Nov. 15 to first-degree burglary and second-degree manslaughter.

"I apologize to the family," Witkop said. "I turned myself in."

In other County Court action Friday, Judge Peter L. Broderick Sr. ordered a marijuana smuggler to serve six months of house arrest at the start of a five-year probation term.

Licia A. Wallace, 42, of Niagara Avenue, Niagara Falls, had pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree criminal possession of marijuana. She was arrested Dec. 12, 2005, at the Rainbow Bridge, where she tried to bring 9.82 pounds of marijuana into the U.S.

Antwan R. Thomas, 18, of Crick Court, Niagara Falls, pleaded not guilty to two counts each of third-degree sale and possession of a controlled substance. He is accused of selling crack cocaine.

Also Friday, Broderick ordered weekends behind bars for two men who pleaded guilty to felony counts of driving while intoxicated. They also will serve five years of probation and pay $2,500 fines.

Michael J. Ralston, 44, of Town Hall Terrace, Grand Island, will serve three months of weekends in jail and three months of weekends in the county work program. He was arrested July 27, 2005, in the Town of Niagara.

Theodore T. Wozniak, 55, of Dickersonville Road, Lewiston, will serve 10 weekends in jail. He was pulled over May 23 in Lewiston.


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