Four Rochester-area teenagers face spending the next 20 years of their lives behind bars for breaking into a West Seneca home and beating a man to death.
Jake D. Winters, 18, Kyle Allison, 19, Gerald C. Anderson III, 18, and Stephen D. Le, 19, were in State Supreme Court on Thursday, where all four pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the death of James L. Gilson three months ago.
"They will spend a large part of the rest of their lives in jail," said Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark.
The four, who were arrested on second-degree murder, burglary and robbery charges, faced possible life in prison if the case had gone to trial. They agreed to a plea deal, given the convincing evidence against them, attorneys said outside the courtroom.
"He [Allison] decided to plead guilty and forego a possible life sentence," said John Jordan, Allison's attorney.
The four will be sentenced Sept. 25, before State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia.
Buscaglia on Thursday committed to giving Allison, Anderson and Le a maximum of 22 years in prison, while committing to sentence Winters to a maximum of 20 years.
"It would have been a very difficult case for us to defend at trial," said Joel Daniels, Anderson's attorney. "Under the circumstances, we're satisfied with the sentence we're looking at."
It was DNA evidence on a sledgehammer used to break into the home, and left at the scene, that allowed West Seneca detectives to track down Winters, who cooperated with investigators and prosecutor James F. Bargnesi.
Weeks prior to the break-in, Winters and Allison were employed by a company that was waterproofing the basement of Gilson's Winspear Road home. They noticed a small amount of marijuana, and thought there might be more drugs or money inside the home, according to sources familiar with the case.
Allison, of Rush, Winters and Anderson, both of Henrietta, and a fourth person showed up at Gilson's home a couple of weeks later in an attempt to break in, but were scared away when a neighbor started asking them questions, sources said.
When it was decided to try again on the morning of April 3, the fourth person had backed out and Le, of West Henrietta, was recruited. Le doesn't have a criminal record, said his attorney, Joseph Damelio.
They watched Gilson's wife leave for work in the morning, and then broke into the house wearing masks, later claiming they believed no one else was home.
Inside, they were immediately confronted by Gilson, 34, and a fight ensued.
Gilson was tied up in the basement and beaten, and the house was ransacked.
The four claimed Gilson was still alive when they left at least an hour later with some jewelry and liquor bottles, sources said.
Clark believes the four wanted to sneak in and out without being noticed and didn't plan on killing Gilson.
"What we're left with is a very sad story," Clark said.