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POLICE & COURTS

>Report finds Henschen died of starvation, dehydration

A Colden man who died awaiting trial for allegedly killing two elderly Southtowns women last winter died of pneumonia caused by starvation and dehydration, according to a report by the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office.

Robert Henchen, 42, died of "bronchopneumonia due to starvation and dehydration with electrolyte imbalance," the report stated.

Henchen had been at the Erie County Holding Center since Jan. 19, when he was picked up by authorities on a parole violation. He was subsequently charged in the deaths of 69-year-old Nancy G. Phelps of Marilla and his 87-year-old neighbor, Geraldine Jackson.

Henchen died May 19, four days after being hospitalized.

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>Accused killer rejects DA's offer of plea deal

The Cheektowaga man accused of murdering a co-worker, over what's described as an online love triangle, turned down a plea deal Friday, and is expected to go to trial in August.

Thomas Montgomery, 48, was before State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang on Friday morning, and rejected a plea of first-degree manslaughter offered by the Erie County district attorney's office, court officials said.

The plea carried a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The trial is set for Aug. 20.

Montgomery, who faces a possible life sentence now, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Brian M. Barrett, 22, of Lockport.

Barrett was gunned down on the night of Sept. 15 while inside his pickup truck in the parking lot of Dynabrade Corp. on Sheridan Drive in Clarence, where he and Montgomery worked.

Montgomery is accused of shooting Barrett, in an apparent love triangle involving a nearly 50-year-old West Virginia woman who allegedly enticed the two by posing on the Internet as an attractive 18-year-old.

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>Ex-pastor accused of $18,000 theft

NIAGARA FALLS -- A pastor of the former St. Paul's United Methodist Church has been charged in connection with the alleged theft of $18,000 from the church, according to Niagara Falls police.

Peter Del Rio, 49, allegedly stole the money by using a church credit card, according to Detective Capt. Ernest C. Palmer.

The case will be presented to a Niagara County grand jury next week.

Del Rio is accused of withdrawing $13,000 in cash, as well as making purchases of $5,000 for items, including jewelry.

Del Rio told police he planned to deposit the $13,000 into another bank account for church use. Investigators were not able to substantiate that claim, Palmer said.

The former pastor, who police believe may be performing wedding ceremonies for a local chapel, offered to take over responsibility for paying off the debt. But the district attorney's office decided to move forward with charges, according to Palmer, who said police were tipped off by members of the congregation.

"This just underscores the importance of someone double-checking the books at any organization," Palmer said.

St. Paul's was formerly located at 723 Seventh St.

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>Trial date will be set for Fricano on Aug. 7

LOCKPORT -- State Supreme Court Justice Amy J. Fricano is due back in Town Court on Aug. 7, when a trial date is expected to be set on the charge that she was driving under the influence of a prescription painkiller when her sport utility vehicle struck a utility pole April 9.

Defense attorney Joel L. Daniels said Friday he hasn't decided yet whether to try the case before a jury or only before Town Justice Leonard G. Tilney Jr. He said there is no chance Fricano will change her mind and plead guilty before the trial.

Tilney rejected a defense motion to dismiss the charges after a hearing on whether police had probable cause to arrest Fricano. He concluded that they did.

The drugged driving charge is a misdemeanor that carries a potential one-year jail term.

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>Swerving to miss deer causes two cars to flip

Two vehicles flipped over -- one after swerving to avoid a deer, the other to avoid the first vehicle -- on the Niagara Thruway on Grand Island early Friday, but state police reported no serious injuries.

The accident occurred at about 3:15 a.m., when a northbound vehicle driven by Matthew C. Clingersmith, 24, of Niagara Falls, swerved to avoid a deer in the passing lane, flipped over and landed on the driver's side in the middle of the two lanes, Trooper Daniel Golinski said.

The second driver, Shirley E. Davis, 54, of Buffalo, swerved to avoid the Clingersmith vehicle. She lost control of her vehicle, which went off the road, into a drainage ditch, and rolled over on its roof.

Both drivers, plus Heather Link, 22, a passenger in Clingersmith's vehicle, were taken to Erie County Medical Center. Troopers ticketed Clingersmith for speed not reasonable and prudent and changing lanes unsafely, Golinski said.

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