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One victim pleaded for her life at City Grill; Witness says gunman then shot her in the neck

Tiffany Wilhite's last words could be heard over and over again at the bloody City Grill scene.

"Please, don't kill me!" Wilhite pleaded as the gunman ran toward her.

Twice more she begged: "Please, don't kill me! Please, don't kill me!"

That's when the gunman shot her, witness Rickita Latham said Monday in Erie County Court, where she identified Riccardo M. McCray as Wilhite's killer.

McCray had already shot Willie McCaa, 26, and DeMario Vass, 30, in the parking lot across the Metro Rail tracks from the restaurant on Main Street downtown, Latham said.

Latham said she was ducking behind the driver's side of a vehicle. She said she looked through the vehicle's side windows and saw McCray shoot both young men in the head.

McCaa fell to the ground, and Vass slumped over the vehicle, Latham recalled during questioning by prosecutor James F. Bargnesi.

Then, she said, McCray turned toward Wilhite standing outside City's Grill's entrance about 30 yards away.

"He was running crazy across the street," Latham said. "The next thing you know, he shot Tiffany."

Latham said she kept low to the ground but had a clear view of the entrance.

"I just stayed there till I didn't hear shots no more," she said.

Latham said she did not see where McCray went after shooting Wilhite.

She said she has known McCray for more than a decade from city's East Ferry Street section where the two would occasionally see each other at corner stores.

Latham said she saw the shoving match inside City Grill that prompted the disc jockey to announce that the party was being shut down.

McCray had turned his baseball cap around "like he was ready for a fight," she said.

Some of those around him were "arguing over who pushed who," she said.

When she walked out of the bar and restaurant, she said, she noticed McCray across the street "having words with some guys."

Soon afterward, gunfire erupted.

McCaa was shot in the back of the head, and the bullet exited through his forehead, said forensic pathologist Mark M. LeVaughn, who was deputy chief medical examiner for Erie County when he conducted McCaa's postmortem. McCaa's death was "rapid, if not instant," LeVaughn said Monday.

Prosecutors have not described the extent of Vass' wound, other than to say he has remained unresponsive since the shooting, remains under medical care and is unlikely to recover.

Latham said she did not see anyone else get shot. But she described how she could not find her cousin Shawntia McNeil in the chaotic scene at about 2:30 a.m. Aug. 14.

After police and paramedics arrived, she noticed McNeil on a stretcher being taken into an ambulance. McNeil, 27, died later in a hospital.

McNeil was shot in the left chest. She died from hemorrhaging as the bullet cut through her aorta before lodging in her hip, LeVaughn said.

"She bled to death," he said.

Wilhite was shot at close range in the right side of her neck, with the bullet slicing through her carotid artery and jugular vein, causing dramatic blood loss, Dr. James J. Woytash testified last week. Wilhite died at the scene.

Charges against McCray include three counts of first-degree murder, one count of second-degree murder, four counts of first-degree attempted murder and possession of a weapon. McCray is charged with fatally shooting Wilhite; McCaa; McNeil; and Danyell Mackin, 30; and wounding Vass; James Robbs Jr., 27; Shamar Davis, 30; and Tillman Ward, 27.

Joseph J. Terranova, McCray's defense lawyer, questioned Latham on why she didn't tell police about what she saw until months after the shootings. She appeared Monday only because of a subpoena, she said.

She's currently in the Town of Clarence's drug court, and her record also includes arrests in Cheektowaga, Amherst, Hamburg and Niagara Falls on drug, petit larceny, forgery and criminal possession of stolen property charges.

"I steal because that's how I supported myself at the time," Latham said.

She denied trying to get a deal on her criminal charges by testifying against McCray.

Rather, she said she kept quiet about what she saw because, "I was scared somebody was going to kill me."

Eventually, she called detectives.

"I couldn't let this guy get away with killing my cousin, my best friend," she said of McNeil.

Also Monday, the sixth day of McCray's trial, the jury heard from the man who met McCray in Charlotte, N.C., six days after the City Grill shootings.

Haywood Ticking, 24, said he met McCray on Aug. 20, a Friday.

Ticking, who works as a stocker for a Charlotte health care company, said Ahmen Lester introduced him to McCray. Lester, 35, was living in Charlotte with one of McCray's sisters.

Ticking said he knew Lester because the two smoked marijuana together.

During questioning from prosecutor Mary Beth DePasquale, Ticking said he did know why McCray was in Charlotte, nor was he aware that McCray had been at City Grill at the time of the shooting.

The following Sunday, Ticking was driving McCray and Lester to Buffalo.

Ticking, who had not been to Buffalo before, said he agreed to drive Lester and McCray back to Buffalo because Lester said he wanted to visit his two children here and take them shopping. The three drove straight through, arriving in Buffalo at about 3:30 a.m. Aug. 23, a Monday.

Ticking told the jury that New York State troopers stopped his car as he approached Buffalo on the Thruway because, two weeks earlier, his mother had put out a missing-person report distributed nationwide when he went on vacation in South Carolina without telling her.

Although he had seen his mother the previous weekend, and she had canceled the missing-person report, it was still listed on the national Amber Alert system and troopers stopped him when they noticed his car.

Ticking said he never discussed the City Grill shootings with McCray. He said he dropped McCray off at a Buffalo housing project, which he could not identify.

News Staff Reporter Matt Gryta contributed to this report.

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com