Cory Epps' release from custody Friday after spending two decades behind bars for a murder he didn't commit opened up a new question: Who killed Tameka Means?
Means, a 26-year-old Cheektowaga woman, was shot in the head following a road rage incident early on the morning of May 26, 1997, at the intersection of East Delavan Avenue and Chelsea Place.
Authorities say another man – someone Epps' attorney identified during the murder trial in 1998 as a possible suspect – is being investigated for Means' slaying.
A law enforcement source confirmed the new person of interest as Russell Montgomery, who is now 45. In court and after the 1998 trial, Epps' defense lawyer said police never followed up on leads to determine whether Montgomery, who looked like Epps, shot Means.
Montgomery is currently serving a 22-year-to-life sentence in Coxsackie Correctional Facility after being convicted in 2000 of second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon for the shooting death of a rival drug dealer. Paul Pope's body was found in the trunk of his car abandoned two blocks from Montgomery's home on April 16, 1998.
Eight days after Pope was killed, a jury convicted Epps in Means' killing.
Montgomery wasn't arrested in Pope's death until October 1999 and was convicted the next year after a jury trial. Montgomery denied he was the killer.
Epps' sentencing was delayed several days after his defense attorney, Andrew C. LoTempio, claimed there was new evidence pointing to the real killer, according to a report on the sentencing in the The Buffalo News. LoTempio gave the judge, then Acting State Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. McCarthy, a letter from an anonymous woman.
LoTempio said at the sentencing in June 1998 that Montgomery was a fugitive in the killing of Paul Pope. At the time, Montgomery lived on Durham Avenue, about six blocks from where Means was killed. LoTempio told the court in 1998 that he suspected Montgomery killed Pope because Pope was telling people Montgomery had bragged about killing Means.
But the judge in Epps' case said the new claims were "at best, second- or third-hand hearsay" and that the anonymous letter had factual "inconsistencies" about the color of the shooter's car and the clothing the shooter wore.
On Thursday, a hearing was held behind closed doors to review both new and old evidence from Epps' case, which led to Erie County Judge James Bargnesi to vacate Epps' conviction Friday.
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn would not say what the new evidence was.
Without naming Montgomery, he said he firmly believes the new person of interest in Means' death is a likely suspect.
"I firmly believe it," Flynn said. "Whether I can prove it in court beyond a reasonable doubt, I can't say at this time."