Two Buffalo men charged with killing Donald J. Paige Jr. in the driveway of his Niagara Falls home were found guilty on all counts Wednesday night.
A Niagara County Court jury deliberated for eight hours -- counting a two-hour, 20-minute rereading of the star witness' full testimony -- before convicting Brandon Dennis, 23, of North Division Street, and Paul A. Osborne Jr., 22, of Seventh Street.
Both were found guilty of three counts each of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery, two counts of second-degree assault, and single counts of attempted first-degree robbery, first-degree criminal use of a firearm and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
"Justice has been served," said Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann, who prosecuted the case with colleague Claudette S. Caldwell.
Osborne and Dennis face sentences of up to life in prison when they return to the courtroom of Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza on April 24. In the meantime, they are being held in the Niagara County Jail without bail.
During her closing argument Wednesday morning, Hoffmann charged that Osborne and Dennis were waiting to ambush Paige at Dennis' mother's house, from which Paige's home is visible, 297 feet away.
She said the attack was "a setup" arranged by Courtney Dennis, Brandon Dennis' brother, who, cell phone records showed, was alternating calls between Paige and Brandon Dennis throughout Aug. 23, 2007.
"They knew Donnie Paige was selling marijuana," Hoffmann said. "They wanted money or weed. . . . That may have been why they were there, but no one deserves to die like this."
Paige, 24, was shot in the head and neck by Dennis, prosecutors said of the Aug. 23, 2007, incident, which began with a gunpoint robbery by both defendants against Paige's friend, Victor L. Bullard. He was the only witness to pick both defendants' photos out of arrays presented by Niagara Falls police, and it was Bullard's testimony that the jury wanted to hear again.
Dennis also was picked out of a photo array by Dichiara Paige, the victim's sister, who was shot in the arm during the attack.
Paige's father, Donald Sr., was bitten on the finger and arm by Osborne during a struggle that preceded the shooting. A DNA sample from his finger contained Osborne's DNA, as did a baseball cap found at the scene. Osborne's fingerprints were found on the upper door frame of Paige's sport utility vehicle, in which Bullard was sitting when he was robbed.
The elder Paige sat back, his arms folded, as the jury forewoman read the verdicts shortly after 9 p.m.
"Their guns shouldn't be on the street. Those young kids, they don't know what to do with them," he remarked after the court session.
Osborne seemed surprised by the verdict. He shook his head slightly as the robbery verdicts came in, then leaned forward as the murder counts were announced before slouching down in his chair.
Dennis maintained a poker face as the verdicts against him were read. His mother let out a howl and was led sobbing from the courtroom by a security guard, her screams drowning out the announcement of the last "guilty."
Dennis seemed philosophical about the verdicts, talking with his family afterward.
"Niagara County," he was heard to say as he shrugged.
"I'm frankly more surprised than he was," said James M. Perry, Dennis' court-appointed attorney. "He was sorry about the impact on his family. He knows he has to be strong for them."
Osborne's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Matthew P. Pynn, worked the case with colleague Rodney A. Giove. Pynn said of Osborne, "I think he thought he was going to win this trial all the way through."
But, said Pynn, the DNA, the fingerprints and the eyewitness identification were too much to overcome.
Perry said Dennis was done in by the eyewitnesses, especially Bullard's noticing that one of the men who robbed him was missing an upper left front tooth.
Dennis has that feature, as was shown by a photo Sperrazza allowed the prosecution to take last month and testimony by an old high school friend of Dennis' who said Dennis earned the nickname "Rat" because he lacked the tooth.
"That missing upper left front tooth is fatal to Brandon Dennis' defense," Hoffmann told the jury.
Perry said Sperrazza's decision to allow the photo of the gap in Dennis' teeth was grounds for appeal, along with what he considered hearsay police testimony about statements purportedly made by people who weren't called to the witness stand.