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Judge accepts lesser plea by suspect in robbery try

Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza dismissed two felony charges Friday against a North Tonawanda man who was accused of trying to rob a Grand Island couple while armed with a 20-foot tree-limb cutter.

Sperrazza allowed Ryan A. McNaughton Jr., 42, of Oliver Street, to plead guilty to two misdemeanors. Sperrazza said she liked a proposal from Assistant Public Defender Michele G. Bergevin to sentence McNaughton to psychiatric treatment.

Assistant District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III wouldn't agree to that plan.

"I'm taking matters into my own hands," Sperrazza said. She then reversed her earlier decision that the evidence presented to the grand jury was sufficient to charge McNaughton with attempted first-degree robbery and third-degree weapons possession, which could have brought him up to 15 years in prison.

The dismissal of those counts left two misdemeanors, second-degree menacing and resisting arrest, as the only charges.

McNaughton pleaded guilty to those, and Bergevin was given until sentencing March 24 to work out a plan for his mental treatment.

"If he screws up, I'll put him in jail for two years," Sperrazza said.

McNaughton was accused of confronting Robert and Mary Irvine with the limb cutter outside Michael's Restaurant, 30th Street and Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls, July 8.

In another case before Sperrazza Friday, Christopher M. Kudela received his reward for cooperating in the prosecution of Judith A. Dale, the former manager of the Parkway Condominiums in Niagara Falls.

Kudela, 34, of Morgan Drive, Lewiston, was allowed to plead guilty to three misdemeanors: seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, driving while intoxicated and second-degree aggravated unlicensed operation. Sentencing was set for April 18.

Murphy had evidence of felony charges but permitted Kudela to make a deal in exchange for information against Dale.

On June 24, 2004, Kudela wiped out his motorcycle at Lewiston and Upper Mountain roads in Lewiston. Court papers said police found a plastic bag in his pocket that contained .32 ounces of cocaine.

On Aug. 28, 2005, Kudela's motorcycle was pulled over on Lower River Road in Lewiston after he ran a stop sign; he refused the breath test and was charged with DWI. A misdemeanor count of driving while impaired by drugs, lodged June 11, 2004 in Niagara Falls, was dismissed in the deal.

The indictment against Dale accused her of spending $30,000 of the condo association's money buying cocaine from Kudela from October 2002 to October 2003.

When Dale pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of petit larceny Jan. 5, her attorney denied the $30,000 was paid for cocaine.

At the time, Murphy called the $30,000 "Christopher Kudela payments" but acknowledged there was a dispute over whether the cash was for drugs or maintenance work at the condos.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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