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Sexual predator sentenced to 22 years to life in prison

An attacker who stalked a woman, grabbed her while she was walking down a street in Willert Park, battered her and raped her received a sentence of 22 years to life in prison on Tuesday.

In October, a State Supreme Court jury found Willie Sanders, 58, of Buffalo guilty of predatory sexual assault and attempted rape for the Aug. 22, 2014 incident. Justice Russell P. Buscaglia sentenced Sanders to 22 years to life for the first offense and 15 years in prison plus five years post release supervision for the attempted rape conviction, with the sentences to run concurrently.

The judge also issued an order of protection to keep Sanders away from the woman he assaulted until 2038.

The woman, who didn't know Sanders, was walking home after helping a friend with a party when Sanders confronted her that night on Adams Street. He punched her several times in the face to subdue her and dragged her behind a nearby vacant school building. There he took some cover by a small set of bleachers and, while threatening her with a knife, forced her to perform sexual acts.

The woman eventually was able to free herself by offering Sanders her purse, but when she fled, she left behind her shoes, her phone and other personal items. She went to a hospital, where she reported the assault and was treated for fractures and bruises on her face.

Before sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Ryan Haggerty described how Sanders' "brutal and vicious sexual assault left (the woman) beaten, bloody and broken."

"He is every bit a predator," Haggerty said, "stalking (his victim) on the street and waiting for his opportunity to attack."

Noting that Sanders consider the woman to be nothing more than prey, Haggerty said that the jury viewed her differently.

"The jurors saw her humanity, they saw her fundamental dignity as a person," Haggerty said.

He also noted that Sanders has a criminal record that included violent behavior and sexually violent behavior.

Sanders' attorney John Ange said he wouldn't rehash the trial, but said of his client, "Although he respects the jury's verdict, he maintains his innocence."

Asked if he wished to address the court, Sanders told the judge, "I'm innocent. I didn't do what she said. She lied."

Buscaglia told Sanders that he understood what he was saying but that he believed the evidence supported Haggerty's version of the crime.

Acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr. said Buffalo Police Detective Adam Stephany identified Sanders as the assailant, and Officer Tommy Champion made the arrest. Flaherty also credited Stephany for getting "critical admissions" from Sanders during an interview.

ADA Bethany Solek assisted in the prosecution.

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