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Falls homicide victim was disabled innocent bystander, mourners say

Jose Hewitt was well-known in the neighborhood surrounding his Pine Avenue apartment.

The 59-year-old walked with a cane. He was a diabetic, and was disabled and out of work after suffering a broken hip.

Wednesday night, Hewitt was killed, an apparent innocent bystander to a robbery in his building.

"Jose was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, I think," said neighbor Keisha Portugues.

Hewitt was found in the doorway of 617 Pine Ave., where he lived in a third-floor apartment. Niagara Falls police believe Hewitt opened the door for two people trying to get into the building to rob another occupant around 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Jose Hewitt celebrating his 59th birthday last July. (Photo courtesy of his family)

He was struck on the head, possibly with a gun, by assailants who went up to the second-floor apartment and robbed a man there, according to police.

Police have charged two people with murder and robbery, and are searching for a third suspect.

Shequan O. Herbert, 22, and Stephanie Raymond, 18, both of Niagara Falls, have each been charged with second-degree murder and first-degree robbery. Herbert also was charged with first-degree burglary.

Raymond drove Herbert and the third suspect to and from the crime scene, according to Niagara Falls Police Chief of Detectives Kelly J. Rizzo.

"We believe we have identified the third suspect and are working on strengthening the case against all three perpetrators," said Rizzo, who declined to provide the third suspect's name.

An autopsy on Hewitt determined his cause of death was "a heart attack undoubtedly brought on by the stress and severity of the attack," Rizzo said Thursday evening. "This is no way affects the charges or the culpability of the suspects, however it definitely adds another layer of sadness onto the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Mr. Hewitt's death."

Rizzo said the autopsy also found lacerations to Hewitt's scalp due to blunt force trauma.

Street memorial for Niagara Falls homicide victim ends with two arrests

Hewitt did not know the suspects, said his sister, Arlene Hewitt, who called her brother "an innocent person trying to help."

He is survived by a large family of Native American heritage, including two sons, Joseph and David.

Several dozen family members and friends gathered for a vigil Thursday afternoon outside Hewitt's apartment building, where he lived for at least a decade, family members said. They lit candles, burned incense and played traditional native music, Hewitt's favorite.

Family members said they were devastated, calling Hewitt a kind person who was well-known in his neighborhood.

"He's been a good guy, a friendly face to walk down the street and say hello and help anybody," said Angelina Carr, a mother of one of Hewitt's nieces. "He's been a big part of a lot of people."

Thursday's vigil was meant to clear away evilness associated with what happened and to help their loved one "see his way through," according to his family.

"To cleanse any negativity and to protect him on his journey," said niece Vallissa Lawson.

"He always looked out for everybody. Always looked out for his family, anyone that was close to him," Lawson said. "He was a very caring man. He didn't have much but he gave what he could. He meant no harm to anyone."

Hewitt was born and raised in Niagara Falls, said Arlene Hewitt.

Portugues said they had been neighbors for about eight years and sometimes her family had Hewitt over for dinner, including on holidays. Sometimes they hung out in their backyards.

Police: Bystander slain after opening door for armed robbers

Records filed in Niagara Falls City Court included statements witnesses gave to police about Hewitt's death.

One witness told Niagara Falls police he was in the upstairs apartment when the robbery happened and had been for several hours prior. The witness told police he called a man from the apartment so he could buy Xanax pills around 5:30 or 6 p.m., according to court documents.

The man came to the apartment, sold him four Xanax pills for $16 and left. About a half-hour later, the witness said he heard a loud bang downstairs and heard his friend yelling at someone to stop hitting another man, according to his statement to police. When he was about to go down and check on what was happening, a man in a ski mask came running up the stairs, put a gun to his head and demanded money, according to the statement from the witness.

About $4,000 was stolen, police said.

Another witness told police she saw a white female with Herbert in a car outside the 617 Pine Ave. building at about the time of the incident. The witness told police she recognized Herbert in the passenger seat, according to court documents.

She also told police there was another vehicle that pulled up and had at least one other man in it. The second man got out his car and went with Herbert toward the barbershop, she told police.

The two men fled the scene in the two vehicles a short time later, the witness said to police in a statement.

During an interview with detectives, Herbert denied being in the area of the robbery and killing at the time, according to court documents.

Police officials have declined to comment further about what happened beyond what they included in a news release.

Herbert, of Ontario Avenue, and Raymond, of 71st Street, pleaded not guilty Thursday in Niagara Falls City Court. Each was ordered held in custody in lieu of $100,000 cash bail or a $200,000 bond.

An autopsy was planned Thursday. Police said they found no gunshot or knife wounds on Hewitt.

For Cory Hewitt, Jose's nephew, he sees his uncle's killing as the loss of an innocent person.

As the family often did on holidays and for other occasions, they have been planning a gathering for Easter. That event will now go on without their loved one, who got caught up in someone else's wrongdoing, Cory Hewitt said.

"No one deserves that," he said.

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