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Clarity seen as lacking in prosecution of McCray; City Grill trial is due for 'swim in the mud'

The public's desire is for clear and convincing evidence. The prosecutor says that it's going to be muddy.

The trial of the 24-year-old man accused of perpetrating one of the most violent crimes in Buffalo's history -- fatally shooting four people and wounding four others outside a downtown restaurant last summer -- opens today.

If City Grill murder defendant Riccardo M. McCray is found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder for the Aug. 14 deaths, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

"I think it's very important that at the end of this trial, if McCray is found to be the shooter by the jury, that there is an overwhelming amount of evidence," said the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, the Common Council member from the Ellicott District who also is senior pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church.

But prosecutors caution against looking for an "aha" moment -- a piece of evidence that makes the case against McCray crystal clear.

In fact, jurors probably will spend time also weighing the credibility of the prosecution's own witnesses.

Some witnesses bring criminal records, prosecutor James F. Bargnesi said as he quizzed prospective jurors Thursday for a third straight day.

Some of those witnesses are trying to cut deals to keep themselves out of jail.

And some may be reluctant to cooperate.

"That's the realities of what we're about to embark on," Bargnesi said. "We're going to swim in the mud for the next couple of weeks."

Three additional alternates were selected Thursday for the trial, completing jury selection. Opening statements are scheduled for today.

Eight men and four women will serve as jurors, in addition to four men selected as alternates. None of the 12 jurors and four alternates is African-American, as McCray is.

Since Tuesday, about 162 people arrived at the Erie County Courthouse for the jury-selection process, with dozens of prospective jurors asked a series of questions about their backgrounds, jobs and families.

Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio excused many of the prospects from jury duty before the questioning if they expressed unwillingness to serve because of work demands, travel or caregiving responsibilities, or were uncomfortable with the idea of judging the defendant's guilt or innocence.

"We now have a full jury. I couldn't be happier," DiTullio said Thursday.

In addition to the four murder counts, charges against McCray include four counts of first-degree attempted murder and possession of a weapon. He's accused of shooting to death Danyell Mackin, 30; Willie McCaa, 26; Tiffany Wilhite, 32; and Shawntia McNeil, 27.

Fifty-one people are on the civilian witness list, including those present at the shooting or when McCray surrendered to authorities. The witnesses also include at least four former or current Erie County Holding Center inmates who are jailhouse informants claiming to have heard McCray make incriminating statements about the shooting.

Witnesses also include 27 Buffalo police officers or detectives and 19 other members of law enforcement or the County Medical Examiner's Office.

The murder weapon has not been found.

"Given that so much of the evidence is from people with records, thus far, people who seem to be making deals, there will always be doubt," Pridgen said. "It's an unsettling time, unless the prosecution brings out something overwhelmingly convincing to the community and jury."

"I think the situation with this trial is emotionally fracturing for the community," Pridgen added. "Regardless of what comes out in the trial, whether the accused is guilty or innocent, there will forever be doubts in the minds of many people in the community whether they got the shooter."

During the selection process for the last three days, Bargnesi reminded prospective jurors that he must prove McCray's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt -- not beyond all doubt.

"We'll be trying one of the most highly profiled, public, violent murder cases in Buffalo for a long time, maybe ever," Bargnesi said during jury selection Thursday.

"This is reality," he said. "This is not television."

The victims and the accused are all from the community, and many in the community knew one of the victims or know McCray, or at least their relatives, Pridgen said.

"There's not many people who'll talk about this [case] publicly," he said.

But the community is watching, he said.

"I think the worst thing that can happen is a conviction without the community feeling enough evidence was put forward that McCray is the shooter," Pridgen said. "What it would lead to is a community constantly questioning, 'Is this the guy?' "


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