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Maximum sentences imposed in mistaken identity slaying

The four men who beat a Lancaster man to death last year in a case of mistaken identity received the maximum sentences Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza could impose.

Shane W. Craft, 19, of the Town of Niagara, who organized the posse, was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison for first-degree gang assault.

The other three men, who had pleaded guilty to the same charge, received the maximum prison time under plea deals.

Charles J. Maggadino, 25, and James A. Reed Jr., 18, both of Niagara Falls, drew 20 years in prison.

Paul R. Dawson, 20, of the Town of Niagara, was sentenced to 15 years.

A fifth defendant, David F. Kennerknecht, 23, of Town of Niagara, was acquitted at trial Feb. 8.

Nicholas A. Kwasniewski, 23, was beaten June 4 on the front lawn of a 19th Street home in Niagara Falls. He died the next day in Erie County Medical Center.

Ten sheriff's deputies, about eight more than usual, were stationed in the courtroom for the sentencing. More than 30 friends and relatives of the convicted men were kept waiting outside the courtroom while the victim's 15 survivors were seated inside.

Authorities said Craft's father, Rodney W. Craft, who had been banned from the building after an outburst during the trial, was arrested at the main entrance after scuffling with two deputies. He was charged with trespass, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The victim's mother, Kathryn Kwasniewski, who now lives in South Carolina, spoke to the convicted men.

"We wanted to leave them with some visions and thoughts to ponder as they spend in jail what should have been the best years of their lives," she told Sperrazza.

Craft was seeking revenge against a Grand Island man whom he had accused of hitting him in the head with a pipe last March 31 outside a cafe in the Town of Niagara. Kennerknecht was with him at the time. In reporting the encounter, police said they failed to mention they were there to make a marijuana deal.

"Mr. Craft was the victim of a gang assault, [and] we know who did it, and to this day no one has been arrested," Andrew C. LoTempio, Craft's attorney, complained.

Sperrazza was unimpressed, saying: "His position is, society is responsible for keeping drug dealers safe from harm while they're selling drugs. That's not what society is about."

Last June 4, Craft received a phone call from his girlfriend, who said she had spotted his assailant on the front porch of a 19th Street home.

Craft and Kennerknecht drove to Reed's home, where they picked up Reed, Dawson and Maggadino, who had been drinking and snorting amphetamines at a party. They headed for 19th Street, but by the time they arrived, the man they were after had left. When they shouted for "Nick," meaning the other man, Kwasniewski, who had been staying in the house, came out.

Sperrazza made much of testimony that prints from three different shoes were found on the victim's head.

"We know Craft didn't kick him, and we know Kennerknecht didn't kick him. That leaves Dawson, Reed and Maggadino," the judge said.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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