With 15 police officers providing security and a K-9 dog waiting outside the building, a Niagara County Court jury convicted Darnell D. Carter on Wednesday evening of murdering Niagara Falls landlord Robert R. Biggs last year.
Carter, 23, of 12th Street, Niagara Falls, was found guilty of two counts each of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery, and single counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree criminal use of a firearm.
Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza wrapped up the seven-day trial by scheduling sentencing for June 17. Carter could face a maximum of 25 years to life in prison.
Carter was charged with leading an armed robbery of Biggs, 39, of Maple Avenue, in the parking lot next to the Hometown Market on Pierce Avenue in Niagara Falls on March 20, 2009.
Prosecutors said Carter fired a handgun at Biggs as he turned and ran. One bullet struck Biggs in the bicep, fracturing his arm and rupturing a major artery.
Biggs got up and ran about two blocks before collapsing from loss of blood in the backyard of a home on Whitney Avenue. He was robbed of jewelry and a few dollars.
"Robert Biggs died a senseless, lonely death in the backyard of a complete stranger," Assistant District Attorney Brian D. Seaman told the jury.
The names of the others who followed Carter are known, as they have been identified from a store surveillance video shown at the trial.
Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said the case will be reviewed to determine whether there will be more indictments.
"I don't know at this point if we have enough to prosecute," Hoffmann said.
Carter leaned far back in his chair, looked to the ceiling and covered his face with his hands when the first guilty verdict was read, after 3 1/2 hours of deliberations by a 12-member jury. Some female friends of Carter's let out howls and ran from the courtroom.
Seaman said, "[Carter] and his crew had set their mark on Biggs because they thought he had a little bit of money because he was wearing nice jewelry."
Carter testified Monday, saying he had seen another man, Jamell Chapman, shoot at Biggs. Seaman refuted the assertion through use of surveillance videos from the Hometown Market's camera system.
One view showed Carter leading two other men past the front of the store with a checkered scarf pulled over his face, while Chapman walked out toward a parked car.
"The defendant's self-serving, contradictory testimony should be disregarded by you," Seaman told the jury.
But apparently it wasn't completely disregarded, because after about an hour of deliberations, the jury asked to see the videos again.
Assistant Public Defender Christopher A. Privateer said he was disappointed in the verdict. "We'll take a look at what's involved in the case so we can look at what we need to do in regard to sentencing or an appeal," he said.
Privateer told the jury in his summation, "[Carter] told you he didn't have anything to do with it, and there's no evidence to indicate otherwise."
Seaman said several young people hanging around the market that night agreed that the man at the front of the line, wearing a distinctive purple hooded sweat shirt, fired the shots at Biggs. Carter admitted during his testimony that he was the man in purple.
Seaman pointed out, "None of the other witnesses said they saw anyone with a gun."