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Fatal punch nets maximum sentence

Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza Wednesday imposed the maximum sentence on a former North Tonawanda drug dealer who punched a close friend, causing his death from injuries suffered in the resulting fall.

Thomas J. Schepperly, 53, of Main Street, will serve two to four years in state prison for the death of Jason P. Mikos, 45, of Lincoln Avenue, North Tonawanda. He pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide Jan. 11.

Schepperly struck Mikos during an argument on the sidewalk in front of Schepperly's apartment house July 10. Mikos, who was astride a bicycle, fell and struck his head on the sidewalk. He died five days later in Millard Fillmore Hospital, never regaining consciousness.

"Jake was a good friend, a real good friend," Schepperly said, turning toward Mikos' family and speaking as he fought back tears. "I saw him almost every day. I never meant for anything bad to happen to Jake. I just want to apologize. Jake was a good man. I'm very sorry."

Sperrazza acknowledged that Schepperly had shown "abject remorse" in all his court appearances. But she said, "A man died, and there must be consequences."

Mikos' sister, Kathy Lawrence of Angola, urged the maximum sentence for Schepperly. But she showed no satisfaction after it was imposed. "He'll get out, and Jake's still dead," she said.

In court, Lawrence recounted the pain of watching her brother die in the intensive care unit and agreeing to have life support removed after doctors told her there was no hope. "His head, down to the shoulders, became so swollen and enlarged that all I could think of was the Elephant Man," she told Sperrazza.

Lawrence ended her speech by saying, "My mom has asked many times, 'What did my son do or say that would have cost him his life?' Maybe someday she'll get her answer."

The incident occurred during a birthday party in the back yard of Schepperly's apartment house. Defense attorney Herbert L. Greenman asserted that Schepperly was "stone sober," but First Assistant District Attorney Timothy R. Lundquist disagreed.

"Mr. Schepperly gave a statement to police indicating he was at the party all day and ate and drank there," Lundquist said.

The arrest violated the terms of probation Schepperly received in August 2004 for attempted fifth-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance. Sperrazza sentenced him to one to three years in prison on the probation violation, but ordered that sentence to be served simultaneously with the penalty for the homicide.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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