The conviction of Diamond Lewis on multiple charges of murder, attempted murder and assault ended what prosecutors called “a reign of terror” in the teenager’s East Side neighborhood.
It also probably saved Lewis’s life.
Lewis was arrested on Jan. 26 after he went to Erie County Medical Center with a gunshot wound. Buffalo Police Det. Scott Malec who interviewed him that night later said if Lewis hadn't been arrested it's likely he would have been killed before now.
While Lewis was at-large, his penchant for drive-by and ambush shootings had made him a target of three different gangs – maybe, in the end, even his own Keystone crew. By the time he was caught, Lewis already had been robbed, beaten, stabbed and shot three times — once allegedly by an angry girlfriend who accused him of cheating on her, investigators said.
Still, he survived and he stood impassively Friday morning as Judge Kenneth F. Case pronounced him guilty of second degree murder for the shooting deaths of David Skipper Jr., 22, in October 2014 and of Alonzo Green, 18, in June 2015.
The judge also found Lewis guilty of the attempted murders of Leroy Favors Jr., Dominique Toney, Raequan Reed, Lavonna Gaines and Anthony Douglas, all bystanders who were shot in three separate incidents in 2015 and January 2016, and of Keyshawn Brazier, who was at the scene of two of shootings but was never injured. Case also found Lewis guilty of second degree assault in the shooting of Chaniah Trueheart, who was struck by a bullet when she stopped her car at the intersection of Playter and Kent streets in August 2015 and was caught between Lewis’s gun and Brazier.
Lewis also was convicted on four counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree for being armed during his crimes. He faces a maximum possible sentence of 50 years to life in prison when he returns to court Dec. 8.
Lewis is now 19 years old.
The number of convictions only scratches the surface of the violence associated with Lewis’s life. Investigators believe he became “a shooter” when he was 17, after two people close to him – Kristopher Pride and Michael Smith Jr. – were killed in 2013.
“The fact that he was shot shows you that there were at least some people who wanted Lewis off the street, one way or another,” Acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr. said after the verdicts were delivered. “Anytime Mr. Lewis was on the street, he would be a magnet for malevolence, and whoever was with him also could be a potential target.”
A friend of Lewis’s said after his arrest that Lewis had felt like he was in the middle of a war – a war that he fueled with taunting posts and messages on social media. Prosecutors also believe that in his final months of freedom Lewis left the area several times to escape the enemies he had created.
Investigators believe Lewis’s shooting spree began in October 2014, when he ambushed David Skipper Jr. as he was walking on Erb Street. Prosecutors said Skipper, who was unarmed, apparently tried to run after he was shot but fell. Lewis then fired the fatal shot into his back.
A witness, Brandon Loyd, now in federal custody on a bank robbery charge, said he ran into Lewis who he had known since they were students at North Park Academy just before Skipper was shot. He said they reconnected a few years ago and had seen each other countless times before that Oct. 14, when Loyd was walking to a friend’s house on Erb Street and he saw Lewis.
“As I was walking past the driveway, he raised the gun. When he realized who I was, he lowered the gun,” Loyd said. “I asked him what he was doing and he told me to be quiet and keep walking. He told me that, like three times.”
So, Loyd kept walking and a few moments later he heard about five gunshots. He testified that he turned and saw a man on the ground, but no gunman.
He also said he did not go back to see who was on the ground.
He next saw Lewis about two days later. Asked how Lewis seemed, he said, “Happy.”
Did he say what he was happy about, he was asked.
“About killing David Skipper," Loyd said Lewis told him.
Loyd also testified that, although Lewis told him not to say anything, he went to the police about two weeks after the shooting, and long before his own arrest, because he felt bad for David Skipper’s family.
That put Lewis on the investigators’ radar but wasn’t enough for an arrest.
Meanwhile, police weren’t the only ones who suspected Lewis. In February 2015, a group of people jumped an 18-year-old man at the Walden Galleria and beat him. One woman was heard shouting “You killed my brother!” as she hit him with a sign.
The woman was Ashley Skipper; the man being attacked was Diamond Lewis. Seven people were charged with disorderly conduct and Lewis was hospitalized. He declined to press charges. Instead, he went on Facebook and mocked his assailants, telling Ashley Skipper she had gotten him good with the pole and put up a better fight than her little brother, meaning the man he shot. Lewis followed that with “LOL.”
That taunt was among thousands of online posts and messages prosecutors sifted through, according to Assistant District Attorney John Patrick Feroleto said. Over and over, Lewis used social media to make threats and challenges, to “make things hot,” Feroleto said.
And that, according to investigators and prosecutors, is what he did. But in between the shootings, he also left the area to protect his own skin.
Lewis reportedly had been in Ohio for 12 days before he returned to Buffalo and sprayed bullets at a group of Box Street gang members outside a Fillmore Avenue convenience store on Jan. 25. He missed his targets but shot 13-year-old Lavonna Gaines in the leg as she walked to the store with her grandmother.
That was part of a pattern of recklessness that helped investigators from the Buffalo Police and the District Attorney’s Office build their case outside the tight-knit gang culture that tends to settle disputes with “street justice.” Lewis shot so many bystanders that five of them testified against him during his trial.
Two men who were shot at a cook-out on Warren Street on June 6, 2015 identified Lewis as the shooter, with one – Raequan Reed – describing Lewis as a childhood friend. The other, Anthony Douglas, was left permanently paralyzed by the bullet that hit him. He didn’t know Lewis then, but he identified him in a lineup.
No one saw Lewis’s face at the Playter and Kent shooting, but they did see the truck he was in. When police pulled it over within a minute of the shooting a gun was found tossed in a nearby yard. Forensics eventually connected the weapon to the shooting of Trueheart through ballistics and to Lewis through DNA.
One of the most colorful witnesses was Lewis’s friend Devoreaux Hollingsworth, who testified that he was driving Lewis around the day he shot at the Box Street boys on Jan. 25 He also said he was driving behind Lewis the night he was shot for the last time.
Hollingsworth identified the Box Street members Lewis was trying to shoot outside the store on Fillmore in a security video. He used the street names for twins Quintin and Quintelle Suttles, but when he mentioned, unprompted, that he thought Lewis killed the twins’ brother a few months earlier, he used his full name. Corey Suttles was shot in September 2015. Defense attorneys Brian Parker and John Gilmour quickly objected, and the judge sustained.
Asked after the trial if Lewis was a suspect in the death of Corey Suttles, investigators would only say they had no evidence that would refute that claim.
True or not, it could explain why, in Hollingsworth’s version of events, it was one of the twins who was firing back at Lewis later that night.
Since the events of Jan. 25, Hollingsworth has pleaded guilty to a gun charge, as has Quintin Suttles. Charges against Quintelle Suttles are pending.
Assistant District Attorneys Eugene T. Partridge III and Meghan E. Leydecker prosecuted the case with Feroleto, and Flaherty also commended the work of Buffalo Police Detectives Scott Malec, Mark White and Christopher Sterlace, who investigated the shootings.
Story topics: Erie County Court