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Falls man pleads guilty in slaying of uncle

LOCKPORT – A Niagara Falls man who gunned down his uncle after a family spat accepted a plea offer Tuesday in Niagara County Court.

Darius M. Belton, 18, admitted to first-degree manslaughter and is to be sentenced to 17 years in prison, plus five years of post-release supervision. Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas will make it official June 27.

Belton was to have gone to trial Wednesday on charges of second-degree murder and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon in connection with the Sept. 25 slaying of Luis Ubiles, 37, outside Belton’s home on South Avenue in Niagara Falls.

Ubiles, who lived next door, was the older brother of Belton’s father.

Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said Belton is believed to have had an unregistered handgun in his possession, which he pulled and fired.

A subdued Belton, answering questions from Farkas, said he was an 11th-grade dropout who had undergone psychiatric treatment, including medications, before the age of 15 for an ailment whose name he couldn’t recall. He said he quit school because “school wasn’t working.”

“I was involved in the wrong thing … everything but school,” he said.

Defense attorney Angelo Musitano had hinted he would use a self-defense argument at the trial, contending that Ubiles was advancing toward Belton when he was shot.

But a ruling by Farkas on Friday left Belton with little defense to the gun possession charge, even if he had been acquitted of murder or manslaughter.

New York State law says gun possession is not illegal within one’s home or place of business.

But the judge ruled that even though Belton was standing on his front porch when he fired the fatal shot, as far as she was concerned, a porch or stoop is not part of a home. She was planning to tell the jury that in her charge at the conclusion of the trial.

Thus, Belton faced a potential 15-year sentence on the gun charge regardless of the jury’s views on the homicide.

“If the jury decides it was outside the house, then we’ve got a problem,” said Musitano, who came to the District Attorney’s Office Monday to make a deal.

He said another factor in his thinking was Belton’s potential exposure to a sentence of 40 years to life if he was convicted of murder.

Hoffmann said in court that she had made a previous plea offer to first-degree manslaughter with a 20-year sentence.

“[Monday], we met with the court and from that meeting, we got [the notion] that the court would consider something like 17 or 18 years,” Hoffmann said.

Farkas said, “The people were offering 15 years, and the court said that wasn’t enough. Isn’t that what happened?” Hoffmann confirmed the judge’s version. “The family [of Ubiles] also indicated they did not like that number, either,” the prosecutor added.

“No matter how much time they give my nephew, it’ll never end,” said a tearful Anita Rodgers, Ubiles’ sister. She was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with her brother’s photo and his nickname, “Street.”

‘[Belton] took responsibility for his actions. I hope someday I can find it in my heart to forgive him,” Rodgers sobbed. She indicated that hasn’t happened yet. Rodgers also said she left the scene shortly before the slaying.

“If I had stayed another 45 minutes, I could have prevented this,” she said.