A Buffalo man with a criminal history that dates to the early 1970s pleaded guilty Wednesday to felony charges in the Aug. 15 hit-and-run death of attorney Nino Sciolino.
Dennis E. Hopkins, 46, said he knew he hit something that day, but he told Erie County Judge Michael L. D'Amico that he was high on heroin at the time. He told D'Amico that he "should have known" it was a person.
As a result of the plea during what was supposed to have been a routine pretrial court session, D'Amico committed to a prison term of one to three years when he sentences Hopkins on Nov. 17.
Had he been convicted after a jury trial, the maximum prison term Hopkins could have received was four years.
Hopkins, a Herkimer Street resident, has been in jail since his arrest the day after the incident.
After D'Amico ordered Hopkins to remain jailed in lieu of $20,000 bail, his attorney, Julian Johnson, said Hopkins "from the very beginning of this case indicated that he wanted to accept responsibility for his actions."
"He really wanted to resolve this and understood he had to take responsibility for what he had done," said Johnson.
Hopkins was driving on West Ferry Street when he struck Sciolino as the lawyer was getting out of his parked car in the 200 block of West Ferry near Herkimer about 10:30 a.m. Aug. 15.
Sciolino, 79, a Seventh Street resident who became known as the City Court's unofficial 13th judge during his lengthy court career, suffered fatal head injuries.
Hopkins pleaded guilty to single counts of felony leaving the scene of a fatal accident -- a felony -- and drug and hypodermic needle possession charges stemming from his Aug. 16 arrest near a bar in the Tonawanda-Vulcan Street area. A grand jury indicted him on those charges three weeks ago.
Mario Alberto Giacobbe, head of the Erie County district attorney's DWI Bureau, said the arresting officers found Hopkins had a hypodermic needle and a trace of heroin when he was tracked down.
Court officials said Hopkins' criminal record contains at least 29 earlier misdemeanor and felony arrests since the early 1970s in his native Orleans County.
Eyewitness accounts of the fatal incident and a partial license plate number of Hopkins' fleeing car helped police investigators track him down after the car was found abandoned on Dewitt Street the morning of the fatal incident.