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Accomplice gets 22 years to life in Falls murder; W. Senecan sent to prison, while triggerman from Texas delays sentencing with legal tactic

A West Seneca man was sentenced to 22 years to life in prison Tuesday as an accomplice to the murder of a man in Niagara Falls last year.

Phillip A. Holloway, the confessed killer of a man in Niagara Falls last year, delayed his sentencing Tuesday by taking advantage of a legal tactic.

But Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III warned that he could sentence Holloway to consecutive prison terms on his murder and weapon-possession convictions, which could bring him a sentence of 40 years to life in prison when he returns to court July 20.

Meanwhile, Murphy imposed a sentence of 22 years to life on Darrius S. Molson, 26, who was convicted of murder and weapon possession.

Murphy said he regarded Molson as an accomplice to Holloway, 22, of Texas City, Texas.

Holloway confessed to shooting Deion J. Wood, 27, in the early hours of June 13, 2009, as Wood, who had been living on 24th Street in Niagara Falls, sat on the front porch of a woman's home on Ferry Avenue.

The woman, Bernadette Bishop, testified that she saw only one gunman, whom she identified as Molson. But she ran into the house, she said, and didn't see the gunfire.

The two men had separate jury trials with the same result: guilty of second-degree murder and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. Molson's trial ended May 3 and Holloway's May 11.

Police said Holloway told them the motive for the slaying was revenge because Wood allegedly beat him and robbed him of $1,200 the month before.

Molson was arrested shortly after the killing, but Holloway went back to Texas, where he was arrested a month later on an unrelated charge. Niagara Falls detectives flew to Texas and obtained the confession. Holloway said he did not know the name of the person he said he shot.

Not all the bullets were recovered, and not all of the fragments could be matched to a particular gun, but those that could all came from the same weapon, a forensic specialist testified.

"We'll never know for certain whether both [defendants] fired," Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said, "but Deion Wood was gunned down in a coldblooded, execution-style killing. There was no conversation. Six bullets were fired. Six bullets struck Mr. Wood."

Public defender David J. Farrugia pointed out that Molson several times "was given an opportunity to plead guilty to a very favorable plea, which he did not do because he maintained his innocence."

He said Molson rejected an offer of admitting to second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, which carries a sentence of five to 15 years.

Dana DiLaura of Buffalo, Wood's ex-girlfriend, said Molson "was best friends with someone who had hatred for Deion, and he was glad to collaborate."

None of Wood's immediate family attended the sentencing. "This has been too hard for the family," said DiLaura, who knew Wood for 10 years, most of the last five as boyfriend and girlfriend.

"I cry every night that [Wood] was even in Niagara Falls," DiLaura said. "I wanted him to go home to Rochester."

She said Wood's grandmother has told her that she forgives Molson and Holloway. "I'm not that lucky. I hate them, and I want to see them suffer for taking Deion from us," DiLaura said as she demanded maximum sentencing for both.

Molson offered "my most sincere sympathies" to Wood's family members but said they won't find any peace from his sentence. He asserted that his attorneys proved he bore no responsibility for Wood's death.

"If we celebrate my conviction here today, we would be celebrating two deaths, one man who died a physical death and one who died a legal death," Molson said.

DiLaura said Wood's family members told her after the sentencing that they have gained some measure of peace knowing that those responsible for Wood's death now are off the streets. "That was the choice they made to destroy their lives," she said.

In court, DiLaura said Wood's three children, the oldest of whom is now 10, were visiting from Rochester and staying in a Niagara Falls hotel on the night of the slaying because Wood wanted them there around Father's Day.

"These babies were woken up to their worst nightmare," DiLaura said.

She blasted Holloway's "stupidity for thinking he could confess and still drag this court through a trial. It was a waste of the court's time and money."

Holloway caused the postponement of his sentencing by denying that he is a second-time felon. Hoffmann said the only legal difference that second-felony status would make is to increase the minimum sentence on the gun charge from 3 1/2 years to five years. The maximum remains 15 years.

Holloway was convicted in Texas in 2007 of a theft worth more than $1,500, Assistant District Attorney Susan B. Bjornholm said.

It is expected to take up to three weeks to get all the records from Texas to prove the conviction at the hearing Murphy scheduled the same day as the July 20 sentencing.

Holloway's attorney, Michael W. McNelis, said he also wants to prepare an argument against Murphy's announcement that he is considering consecutive sentencing for Holloway on the murder and gun counts. That could add up to 15 years to the likely minimum of 25 years on the murder charge, with life as the maximum.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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