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Jury clears identical twin in slaying of Falls man

Edward E. Nickens was acquitted Friday in Niagara County's "identical twin" murder trial, a result produced by what jurors regarded as weak DNA evidence and eyewitnesses who lacked credibility.

After 19 1/2 hours of deliberation over three days, the jury found Nickens, 32, not guilty of the May 16 shooting death of Joshua Hayes, 23, of Whitney Avenue in Niagara Falls.

Nickens showed little reaction when the verdict was announced at about 6:45 p.m., but when he left the courtroom he had a small smile on his face.

"I just want to go home," he said.

County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza presided over the two-week trial.

Defense attorney Frank LoTempio III, who handled the case with colleague Michael Kooshoian, said, "It was the result we expected the whole time."

"Somebody out there is happy tonight," said a male juror, who declined to be identified. "We couldn't make a conviction with what they gave us."

Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann declined to comment.

The verdict was a blow to Hayes' family. His grandmother, Mary Pugh, tried to run from the courtroom, stumbled and fell, and was helped up by a security officer. Hayes' mother, Theresa Chappelle, sobbed in the arms of her husband, Richard Chappelle. Once the jury left the courtroom, she screamed, "No! No! He did it! You know he did it!"

At first, police and prosecutors were unsure whether to charge Edward Nickens or his identical twin Raymond C. Nickens. Sperrazza had ordered them to pose for photos stripped to the waist so police could analyze their differing tattoos and Edward's somewhat bulkier build.

The male juror said he and his colleagues spent a lot of time poring over those photos. They also gathered around a TV screen to watch a surveillance video of the brothers taken in a Niagara Falls bar about half an hour before the shooting. The pictures weren't good enough to see whether one of the brothers was wearing a lip ring. Raymond customarily does, which several witnesses said was the easiest way of distinguishing him from Edward.

Not until Oct. 7 was Edward Nickens, 32, of Michigan Avenue, Niagara Falls, charged with the slaying. Police concluded Raymond wasn't there.

Hayes was shot in the face at about 3 a.m. May 16 in front of Nickens' house after getting out of a SUV driven by his cousin, Lawrence E. Smith, and also occupied by three other cousins. Two of them testified they were there to fight Nickens, who had been in three altercations with Hayes in the previous month.

In his summation, LoTempio said police spent too much time trying to decide which twin to arrest and didn't consider the cousins. In closing arguments, Hoffmann called the notion that one of the cousins killed Hayes, perhaps by accident, "ridiculous."

The handle of the murder weapon carried DNA that showed a 9,960-to-1 chance of being from one of the Nickens twins. But identical twins have the same DNA.

"They couldn't place the gun in the hand [of Edward Nickens] other than with witnesses who had no credibility," said the male juror.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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