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Niagara Falls man pleads guilty in 2016 fatal beating of East Side restaurant owner

Jamell Chapman, 26, pleaded guilty on Monday to first-degree manslaughter for beating to death Upendra Bawa during a robbery in July 2016.

Chapman and two women — his sister, Shanita Chapman, 30, and his girlfriend, Dalene T. McIlwain, 18 — got into Bawa’s apartment and robbed him.

Bawa, 78, a neighborhood fixture, owned and operated the Taste of Life store and small restaurant at 889 Sycamore St. for more than 20 years. Neighbors described him as fair and generous, a man who made sure people had something to eat even if they sometimes had trouble paying right away.

Bawa lived above the store and prosecutors say that he may have given McIlwain access to the apartment after she befriended him.

Investigators believe Bawa was killed July 17, 2016, but his body wasn’t found until July 19. Neighbors were immediately suspicious because Bawa's car was gone, but the death wasn’t ruled a homicide until a few weeks later when it was determined that the fatal blunt force injury that killed Bawa was not sustained in a fall or by other accident.

The Chapmans and McIlwain were arrested in Ohio while driving Bawa’s stolen car.

In 2017, McIlwain pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery and Shanita Chapman pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted robbery for their parts in the crime. Assistant District Attorney John P. Feroleto said Monday that both women gave statements to prosecutors about what happened, both testified before the grand jury and both agreed to testify if Jamell Chapman went to trial.

McIlwain told authorities that Jamell Chapman planned the robbery because he wanted money to flee the area to avoid arrest on the earlier warrant from a parole violation.

Justice Russell P. Buscaglia told Chapman he would consider a sentence between 23 and 25 years in prison at his sentencing April 19.

The judge also will move the sentencing dates for McIlwain and Shanita Chapman, originally scheduled for this month, to a date after Jamell Chapman’s sentencing.

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