William C. Sager Jr. didn’t even want to go out with his buddies on the night before Mother’s Day in 2014, but he didn’t want to disappoint a friend, his fiancée told a State Supreme Court justice Wednesday morning.
As a result, Erika Webster said, “his life was cut short by someone who was given more chances than he deserved.”
That someone was Jeffrey J. Basil, 37, whom Justice Penny W. Wolfgang sentenced to 18 years in prison plus five years of post-release supervision for his guilty plea to first-degree manslaughter in Sager’s death.
Basil, who has been held without bail since his arrest shortly after the incident last year, will have to serve between 15 and 16 years, including time already served, before he has the possibility of release.
On May 11, 2014, while serving as manager of Molly’s Pub on Main Street in University Heights, Basil shoved Sager over a staircase in what was described as an unprovoked assault inside the bar. The Air National Guardsman plummeted to the bottom of the steps and suffered a catastrophic brain injury. Sager, 28, died July 31.
Webster was both angry and tearful as she addressed the courtroom Wednesday. She described getting the telephone call on Mother’s Day that “was like someone stole the air from my lungs.”
She said she had to resign her job so she could be with her fiancé while he was hospitalized, and she told how he would make small improvements that gave her hope he would recover before it became clear that recovery would not come.
“I was by his side (at the end), and I told him how much I loved him and it was OK,” Webster said. “But it was absolutely not OK.”
Speaking for herself and the rest of the Sager family, she asked Wolfgang to impose the longest possible sentence from the agreed-upon range of 15 to 21 years.
But no matter what happened to Basil, Webster added, “none of this will change anything for us now.”
With her decision to sentence Basil to 18 years, Wolfgang “essentially cut the baby in the middle,” Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said after the decision. “I wish he would have gotten 21. I think he deserved the maximum.”
The district attorney acknowledged, however, “the unusual and peculiar circumstances of this case.”
For one thing, because Basil had a prior drug-related felony conviction, it was unusual that he was even allowed to manage a bar. And, although Basil has been described as drunk or high when he attacked Sager, the reason why he went after one of his customers that night remains unknown.
Before sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Christopher J. Belling, who prosecuted the case, asked the judge to recognize Basil’s rough history.
“He has behaved as a bully for many, many years, and that culminated in this offense,” Belling said.
That also may have contributed to a trial jury’s decision in January to convict Basil of second-degree murder.
Wolfgang vacated that verdict in May after an instance of juror misconduct was discovered.
Rather than retry the case, prosecutors and defense attorneys Joel L. Daniels and Andrew C. LoTempio came to an agreement that led Basil to plead guilty June 9 to the lesser offense of manslaughter.
Also making the case unusual was the presence of two off-duty Buffalo police officers who were working security at the bar on the night of the attack.
“There were two police officers involved in this case,” Sedita said Wednesday. “One was Adam O’Shei, who was immediately cooperative with the District Attorney’s Office and who I think regrets some of his actions that night.
“Officer (Robert E.) Eloff was a different kind of officer,” Sedita said. “He lied to us. He took the Fifth Amendment during our investigation – I’d never see an officer do that before.”
On July 15, a federal grand jury indicted Eloff, 40, on two counts, charging him with deprivation of rights under color of law and conspiracy to deprive an individual of rights under color of law for his alleged treatment of Sager and Sager’s friend Donald Hall that night.
Hall was with Sager at Molly’s on the night he was assaulted, and afterward he asked Eloff for his name and badge number. Eloff allegedly put Hall in handcuffs.
The indictment says Eloff arrested “D.H.” without probable cause and deprived him of his constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable seizure and to due process of law. The other count accuses Eloff of conspiring with an unnamed person to violate the constitutional rights of “D.H. and W.S.”
Eloff remains suspended from the Police Department with pay. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has indicated that it will not be filing any charges against O’Shei.