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Accused killer rejects plea to lesser charge

Brandon Harper, 21, accused of first-degree murder for fatally shooting a man during an attempted robbery last July, rejected a plea deal Thursday to a lesser murder charge and will stand trial July 23.

"He has decided to go forward today," defense attorney Joseph J. Terranova told Erie County Judge Michael L. D'Amico.

Harper, of Koons Avenue, is accused of fatally shooting Joseph Hale, 35, of St. Lawrence Avenue, and faces first-degree murder and robbery charges.

A surveillance video shows Harper entering a nearby business shortly before Hale was shot in the back at about 3 a.m. near Edna and Ellicott streets.

Dana Hale, his wife of nearly seven years, has previously said authorities told her that her husband may have been attacked by the men who tried to rob him. It appears he may have resisted and tried to flee. The robbers chased him, and Harper allegedly shot him.

Kevin Milon, 26, of Woodlawn Avenue, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter before D'Amico in February. Milon had been arraigned on second-degree murder and attempted robbery charges. Under the plea deal, Milon will be sentenced to at least 15 years in prison.

Milon said Harper was the shooter.

Several Buffalo police officers testified Thursday, describing their interactions with Harper beginning with his Sept. 21 arrest.

Officers spotted Harper on the porch of a vacant house with about a dozen other men.

Harper walked away from everyone else once he spotted the police, Police Officer Michael J. Acquino testified.

As police took him into custody for trespassing, they recognized him as someone wanted for questioning in Hale's death.

Detective Sgt. Daniel Rinaldo testified Thursday that Harper initially refused to cooperate with homicide detectives, although Rinaldo recalled Harper saying, "I guess my life is over, isn't it?"

But Harper reconsidered hours later and asked to be taken back to the homicide unit.

"It's time to man up," Harper said, according to Rinaldo. "You have the evidence. I'll talk."

Harper signed a seven-page statement, Rinaldo said.