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Budget cuts delay murder deliberations

The jury in the Edward E. Nickens murder trial deliberated for three hours Wednesday before being halted because state budget cuts would not allow them to continue.

Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza had to interrupt deliberations at 4:30 p.m. because of cutbacks in the state Unified Court System.

Overtime for court workers has been banned without special dispensation from Albany, which means all court activity -- including jury deliberations -- must stop at 4:30.

The jury will return at9:30 a.m. today to continue debating the fate of Nickens, 32, of Michigan Avenue, Niagara Falls. He is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Joshua Hayes, 23, of Whitney Avenue, who was gunned down at about 3 a.m. May 16 in front of Nickens' home.

Police took about five months before charging Edward Nickens and not his identical twin brother, Raymond C. Nickens, whom they concluded was not at the scene.

Raymond Nickens was in court Wednesday wearing his lip ring, which several witnesses in the case said was the easiest way to distinguish him from Edward.

Hayes was killed after getting out of a sport utility vehicle that had followed a car owned by Edward Nickens to his home. The SUV contained four of Hayes' cousins, one of whom testified that they planned to inflict a "beatdown" on the twins.

The Nickens brothers had three altercations with Hayes family members within a month, including an episode outside a Pine Avenue barbershop May 14 in which Edward admitted to police that he punched Joshua Hayes in the jaw. The stitches in Hayes' chin were visible in autopsy photos.

The jury asked to rehear the testimony of Charles Brundige, who lives across the street from the Nickens family. He testified he heard a loud noise and saw one of the twins drive off in Edward's Chevrolet Impala before the police arrived.

They also reheard the testimony of LaShawna Hayes, a cousin of the victim, about Hayes' demeanor in a bar that night.

Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said in her closing argument Wednesday that cell phone records helped pin the crime on Edward.

The Nickens brothers had been together in a bar early that morning, but at 2:56 a.m., Raymond called Edward "despite the fact that Ed told police they were together all night."

At 3:08 a.m., the same moment police were receiving 911 calls about the shooting, Edward made a phone call to Raymond that was picked up by a T-Mobile tower on 18th Street, the nearest cross-street to the Nickens home on Michigan Avenue.

"I submit to you that Edward is somewhere in this block, too," Hoffmann told the jury. "He had to dump a murder weapon, too."

A .40-caliber pistol with a DNA profile matching the Nickens twins was found a block away on Linwood Avenue.

Hoffmann said that in the next half-hour, Edward Nickens made 15 phone calls or sent text messages to his brother and back home to his mother and his nephew, Alonzo Lebron.

"He's calling them because he needs to know, 'What's going on over there? I just shot a guy over there. Are the police there yet?' " Hoffmann claimed.

Hoffmann derided defense attorney Frank LoTempio III for implying in his closing argument Tuesday that one of the Hayes cousins killed Joshua, presumably by accident and then worked out a story to accuse Edward of the crime.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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