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Psychiatric defense indicated in shooting of two officers

The lawyer for the man accused of shooting two Buffalo police officers in December filed court papers Tuesday indicating he will use psychiatric evidence to defend his client.

Paul Gordon Dell said his filing of the brief notice of intent means the Erie County district attorney's office will get court permission to have a psychiatrist examine Varner Harris, 19, "and I'll be there for that session."

Harris is accused of attempted second-degree murder in the Dec. 5 shooting of Officers Patricia A. Parete and Carl E. Andolina. The two officers were shot as they questioned Harris on Elmwood Avenue near West Chippewa Street at about 9 p.m.

Harris, who is being held in the Erie County Holding Center, will be the subject of a hearing State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang has scheduled for April 30.

An Erie County grand jury on Jan. 16, using Harris' alleged written confession of the shootings and other evidence, handed up an attempted-murder indictment against him. He faces a mandatory life term if convicted of that charge because the victims were police officers.

The defense of extreme emotional disturbance that Dell is crafting could lead to a conviction on lesser charges and leave Harris facing a prison term of 15 to 25 years, court officials said.

Parete is undergoing out-of-state inpatient treatment for the injuries she suffered in the shooting. She is the first female Buffalo police officer ever shot in the line of duty.

In court last week, Dell said he intends to challenge the legality of the alleged confession insisting the written statement Harris signed for detectives hours after the shootings "doesn't sound like him talking."

Dell has argued that Harris is "borderline mentally retarded" and was probably just nodding in agreement as detectives interrogated him at Police Headquarters hours after shootings.

Prosecutors Christopher J. Belling and Sarah A. Filocamo said they will seek new psychiatric examinations of Harris but declined further comment.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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