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Gunman in shootout that killed bystander gets 25-years-to-life

Mario Pittman, a career Buffalo criminal with a history of mental health problems, was ordered Friday for a second time to serve a 25-year-to-life term for trying to kill a Buffalo police officer during a shootout six years ago.

State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. imposed the same sentence another judge had handed down five years ago for the April 7, 2005, shooting on Genesee Street in which Amber Keller, 20, of Cheektowaga, a bystander, was killed by police gunfire.

Two years ago, an appellate court had granted Pittman a retrial because the first jury had learned of his 1994 and 1998 armed confrontations with Buffalo police officers.

During a six-day trial in November, a State Supreme Court jury in November found Pittman guilty again of first- and second-degree attempted murder of a police officer and felony weapons charges.

He was sentenced as a persistent violent felon because of his lengthy criminal history.

Both times, Pittman had been found competent to stand trial, but defense attorney Anthony J. Lana insisted his client is "mentally incompetent."

Lana told the judge that Pittman, who has had mental health problems since a teenager, had cooperated with him until he was returned to the Erie County Holding Center last August and refused to continue taking his anti-psychotic medications.

Court officials confirmed that during pretrial proceedings more than a year ago, Pittman had refused to take his prescribed medications and called himself the son of God.

Kloch said Friday he is sure state prison doctors will see to it that Pittman is properly medicated behind bars.

Pittman complained about the sentence Friday but told the judge he is currently taking his medications.

Buffalo Police Officer Thomas P. English, who was involved in the fatal shootout shortly after Pittman had attempted an armed robbery, did not attend Friday's sentencing.

Keller, who was struck by a police bullet while watching the shootout from a friend's apartment, died 38 days later without regaining consciousness.

On July 9, 2009, her family received a $375,000 check from the city to settle her wrongful death case.

Pittman never was charged in Keller's death.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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