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Pleas in Falls slaying will avert trial; Three defendants are charged in bludgeoning death of man

The case of the bludgeoning death of a Niagara Falls man apparently will be resolved without a trial.

One defendant in the Nov. 8 attack on John E. Smith pleaded guilty Wednesday in Niagara County Court, and the other two defendants are scheduled to enter pleas next week, Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said.

Gary R. Llamas Jr., 19, of Falls Street, admitted to first-degree manslaughter Wednesday.

April 8, James S. Hardeman Jr., 17, of 24th Street, is expected to enter the same plea. Tuesday, Amber McNally, 17, of Stephenson Avenue, is slated to plead guilty to first-degree robbery, Hoffmann said.

All three will face 25-year maximum prison sentences. Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza scheduled sentencing June 15.

Sperrazza said the lowest sentence she will consider for Llamas is 20 years.

Hoffmann said Llamas was armed with a golf club and Hardeman with a baseball bat when they beat Smith in the head in an alley between 22nd and 23rd streets in Niagara Falls. Police found the head of a putter in the alley.

McNally allegedly came up with the idea of attacking Smith and helped empty Smith's pockets after the attack. The stolen items were a pack of cigarettes and a crack pipe, Hoffmann said when the defendants were arraigned in January.

"Our position is, they planned it together," Hoffmann said.

Smith was kept on life support until the day after the attack in Erie County Medical Center, Buffalo, while arrangements were made to harvest his organs for transplant.

Smith, 46, of 23rd Street, had moved to Niagara Falls from Chicago less than a year before he was killed. His family is scattered all over the country and had asked for a single sentencing date so they wouldn't have to make more than one trip, Hoffmann said.

She said the family approved the plea offers because they wanted the case wrapped up before Smith's son is sent overseas on a military deployment. No relatives of either Smith or Llamas were in court Wednesday.

The trial date in the case was to have been July 18. All three defendants were charged with second-degree murder and faced possible sentences of 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

Defense attorney Dominic Saraceno of the county conflict defender's office said he thought there was a good chance Llamas would be convicted at trial of "felony murder," which is causing a death while committing another felony, in this case a robbery.

"I know for a fact he never intended to kill anyone," Saraceno said. "We thought the manslaughter was a good plea."

Llamas agreed to testify against Hardeman and McNally if they don't follow through on their plea bargains. Sperrazza told Llamas, "You should know they've already given statements and agreed to cooperate against you."

Llamas said in court that he had moved to Niagara Falls a short time before the attack, after being released from a six-month sentence in his native California for a juvenile crime.

He said his reason for coming to the Falls was to live with his father, but he didn't; he took his own apartment.

He was subdued and looked frightened in court, answering Sperrazza's questions in a low voice.

When the judge asked if he caused Smith's death, Llamas said quietly, "Yes, ma'am."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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