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Mejia found guilty of murder in retrial

After deliberating for about two hours during a retrial, a jury Friday convicted Jose L. Mejia of stealing a man's Air Jordan sneakers and then fatally shooting him in the back as he ran away in his socks.

This time, the jury delivered a swift verdict without using Mejia's own words against him.

Jurors found Mejia guilty of two counts of second-degree murder, robbery, criminal possession of a weapon, and criminal possession of stolen property.

The jury acquitted him of first-degree murder.

He faces 25 years to life in prison when he's sentenced Dec. 22.

Mejia, 19, when arrested in 2006, was previously convicted of first-degree murder in 2007 for shooting Darryl L. Jones in June 2006. The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court later overturned Mejia's conviction, granting him a new trial and ruling that alleged incriminating statements he made to police should have been suppressed in his first trial.

"We're grateful for the outcome," said Gwen Farmer, the victim's mother. "It should have been the exact same as the first one. The family is relieved, but nothing is going to bring Darryl back."

She hugged prosecutors after the verdict, and later praised detectives for solving the crime.

"This isn't just a victory for me, but for them, too, because they got one more murderer off the streets," she said.

How Jones died "crushed me as a mother," she said.

Jones, 22, was shot in the back shortly after stepping off a Metro bus on his way to visit his fiancee just after 1 a.m. on June 22, 2006, at 16th and Vermont streets on Buffalo's West Side.

As he lay dying in a pool of blood, "he was terrified and alone," his mother said.

"That's the most devastating thing for me," Farmer said. "That's my baby. It wasn't an accident, a disease or a mistake. It was a deliberate, vicious, cold-hearted and cruel thing."

In Mejia's new trial this week before State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang, jurors did not hear his statements to police, nor did he testify.

James F. Bargnesi, chief of the District Attorney's Homicide Bureau, and Assistant District Attorney David Heraty built their case on what witnesses heard and saw in the minutes and hours after the shooting.

Jurors listened to a read-back of testimony from Luis R. Hernandez -- Mejia's accomplice -- during the first trial.

After Mejia stole Jones' wallet and the sneakers, Jones started running away, Hernandez testified in the 2007 trial.

"The kid got up," Hernandez testified. "The kid started running. Jose shot him."

Hernandez is now serving a 20-year sentence for his plea to manslaughter.

The man who provided Mejia the .22-caliber revolver testified. So did the woman, 15 at the time of the crime, whom Mejia and Hernandez called -- using Jones' cellphone -- and visited immediately after the shooting.

Police also recovered the stolen sneakers when they arrested Mejia at his Kensington Avenue home 16 days after the killing.

Cory Farmer, 24, Darryl's younger brother by three years, identified the sneakers that police recovered.

"These are my Air Jordan 13s," Farmer said, referring to the Nike series.

Farmer, who shared a bedroom with his brother, said the two were so close that they wore each other's clothes and shoes.

Cory Farmer said he and his brother bought the sneakers -- a pair of size 10 1/2 Air Jordans -- at Walden Galleria a year before the fatal robbery.

"What came out of this witness chair was devastating to this defendant," Bargnesi told jurors in his closing argument.

Joseph Agro, Mejia's defense attorney, sought to discredit the witnesses, calling a few of them liars.

Agro told jurors not to believe Hernandez's testimony because he pinned everything on Mejia in exchange for his plea deal.

Agro also said prosecutors had not proved the Air Jordan sneakers they produced in court are the ones that belonged to Jones.

Agro urged jurors to consider Farmer's emotional state during his testimony.

"Don't think for one moment I'm calling this guy a liar," Agro said. "The poor guy's brother died."

But Agro said there's "no way he'd come in here and say 'maybe' " when questioned if the sneakers belonged to him.

Gwen Farmer said she was offended by Agro's mention of the sneakers' $150 price.

"I don't understand why the price of sneakers was an issue," she said. "My boys got them honestly.

The 22-year-old Jones worked two jobs to earn money.

"He never got into trouble," Ms. Farmer said. "He never did drugs. He didn't drink. He didn't deserve to die like that."

She added, "I was offended the way Mr. Agro brought up the price of the sneakers, as if what would they be doing with sneakers that cost so much."

The question Agro did not answer was how his "unemployed, high school dropout and jerk for a client" came to have the Air Jordans in his foyer when police arrested him, she said.

email: plakamp@buffnews.com