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Suspect admits guilt in hate crime Cross burning will bring prison sentence

A South Buffalo man who set a wooden cross on fire in front of the home of a mixed-race couple in July pleaded guilty Tuesday to two felonies, including a hate-crime charge.

Donald R. Napierala, 41, pleaded guilty before State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller to first-degree attempted reckless endangerment, a charge classified in this case as a hate crime, and first-degree aggravated harassment.

Napierala's sentencing has been scheduled for April 22, said Frederick J. Platek, Boller's law clerk.

Napierala faces 3 1/2 to seven years in prison. The sentences for the two charges will run concurrently.

Attorneys said the plea deal arose because Napierala wanted the matter to be over.

"We thought it was a good bargain for both sides," said John DeFranks, deputy district attorney.

The reckless-endangerment charge is normally classified as a Class E felony but was elevated to a Class D felony because of the hate-crime enhancement.

Napierala was arrested at about 4 a.m. July 7, about 2 1/2 hours after he planted a 3 1/2 - to 4-foot-high wooden cross in the front lawn of Mario Echevarria and Kelly Kohr's South Park Avenue home. He draped the cross in a lighter fluid-soaked cloth and ignited it.

At the time, authorities described Napierala as a white supremacist who hated Echevarria because he is Hispanic. Echevarria is a native of Puerto Rico, and Kohr is white.

Authorities said Napierala was seeking revenge against Echevarria, who allegedly punched him in the eye during a fist fight at an Independence Day party.

Napierala was seen walking along South Park Avenue, about two blocks from his home, carrying a can of beer just before he burned the cross. Once it was on fire, he reportedly watched it burn for about a minute before walking away.

He initially had been charged with misdemeanor arson, misdemeanor criminal mischief and felony reckless endangerment.

The changes to the charges followed a "total evaluation of all the evidence," as well as input from investigators, DeFranks said.

The July incident wasn't the first time police encountered Napierala.

In March 2006, he was arrested by Buffalo police, accused of breaking into a home, confronting a resident at gunpoint and then pointing his shotgun at Police Officer James T. Reese.

Six months earlier, Napierala was arrested for allegedly firing a shotgun near two women.

Records show Napierala has at least five court convictions for other crimes, including criminal possession of a weapon, criminal contempt, disorderly conduct and harassment.

Napierala is in the Erie County Holding Center until sentencing, said Suzanne M. Garvey, his attorney.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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