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McCray chooses not to present a defense Prosecution rests case; summations Thursday

Two more reluctant witnesses in handcuffs took the stand Tuesday in the City Grill trial but offered little help to prosecutors.

Murder defendant Riccardo M. McCray did not take the stand. Nor did McCray's lawyer call any witnesses to testify in his defense.

So after 49 prosecution witnesses over seven days, the prosecution rested its case, and the defense chose not to make one in Erie County Court. Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday.

Judge Sheila A. DiTullio advised jurors to bring a change of clothes, indicating that they'll be sequestered overnight if they can't reach a verdict on the day they start deliberating.

The seventh day of the trial featured two uncooperative witnesses who know McCray, two gun experts who said one gun was used in the shooting and the prosecution's move to drop one of the attempted-murder charges against McCray.

But the day's decision with potentially the biggest impact is McCray's refusal to testify or even mount a defense.

Defense lawyer Joseph J. Terranova could not explain the strategy because DiTullio has issued a gag order preventing him and the prosecutors from talking with the media.

But Paul J. Cambria Jr., a prominent criminal-defense lawyer who's not involved in the City Grill case, said the move is not surprising.

"The defense is not obligated to prove they're not guilty," Cambria said. "I have rested without calling witnesses in at least a half-dozen murder cases that resulted in acquittal."

A defendant who admits to killing someone but offers a justification for it has more reasons to take the stand in his or her own defense.

"When a defendant says, 'I didn't do it,' that's very conducive to calling no witnesses," Cambria said.

Sometimes when a defense presents its case, jurors get the mistaken impression that the burden of proof has shifted to the defense, Cambria said.

Two difficult prosecution witnesses took the stand Tuesday.

The mother of a man who was fatally shot in September angrily denounced police during her brief appearance on the witness stand.

Her son, Ahmen R. Lester, helped drive McCray back to Buffalo from Charlotte, N.C., about a week after the Aug. 14 shooting at City Grill on Main Street downtown.

Lester was gunned down in broad daylight Sept. 10 in a drive-by shooting at East Ferry Street and Ernst Avenue, and police speculate that the shooting may have been in retaliation for his involvement with McCray.

"They killed my son up here for trying to do a good deed," Carlotta Lester testified. "The police [are] the ones that got my child killed."

Lester, of Atlanta, said she has been in jail for three weeks because she didn't want to come to Buffalo to testify. She was handcuffed and shackled during her appearance.

"They put me in jail," she said. "They tried to make me say something that is not true.

"I'm here because you're trying to make me say something I don't know anything about," she said during questioning by prosecutor James F. Bargnesi.

She repeatedly denied Bargnesi's questions about her having talked with McCray before he returned to Buffalo from Charlotte with her son and her neighbor Haywood Ticking eight days after the massacre.

Bargnesi got even less information from Steven "Red" Talley. Investigators have said they have strong evidence that McCray and Talley were together inside City Grill before the shooting and may have been together afterward.

Bargnesi showed Talley a photograph of him with McCray inside the City Grill before the shooting.

Talley, wearing orange prisoner pants and shirt, refused to identify the photo.

"I refuse to testify, and I have nothing to say in this court," he said.

"So you're not going to answer any questions?" Bargnesi asked.

"Yes," Talley replied.

DiTullio allowed Bargnesi to treat Talley as a hostile witness, giving the prosecutor more leeway during questioning. But Bargnesi's follow-up questions were met with either silence from Talley or replies of "I have nothing to say."

Talley spent less than 10 minutes on the stand.

One of the men wounded in the shooting didn't take the stand. As a result, prosecutors dropped one of the attempted-murder charges against McCray. Bargnesi said in court that the "people have brought no proof" against McCray for Tillman Ward's wound.

Bargnesi then requested that the attempted-murder charge stemming from Ward's shooting be dismissed, and DiTullio granted the motion.

Ward was not called to testify, although as recently as two weeks ago he agreed to be interviewed by police. The police detective who interviewed Ward on March 12 at the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden said Ward looked at a photo array and identified McCray as the gunman.

Bargnesi did not say in court if Ward changed his mind again and refused to testify or if prosecutors decided not to call him in the belief that their case against McCray is strong enough without his testimony.

Terranova asked DiTullio to dismiss all of the charges against McCray after prosecutors rested their case, a customary motion by defense lawyers. The judge did not grant the motion.

Bargnesi, in his reply to Terranova's motion, cited Monday's testimony of witness Rickita Latham, who testified that she saw McCray shoot three of the victims. Bargnesi also cited video surveillance and ballistics reports indicating that only one gun was used in the shooting.

Charges against McCray, 24, now include three counts of first-degree murder, one count of second-degree murder, three 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. He's also accused of wounding James Robb, 27; DeMario Vass, 30; and Shamar Davis, 30.

News Staff Reporter Matt Gryta contributed to this report.

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com

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