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Jury to determine fate of two teens charged in cabbie’s murder

A jury today will start deliberating the fate of two Buffalo teenagers accused of killing a popular cab driver last March by firing two bullets into the back of his head, then taking his wallet and cellphone before leaving him lying in a pool of blood in the back seat of his cab.

The deliberations follow four hours of closing statements Wednesday by a prosecutor and two defense attorneys in the nearly three-week-long trial that included testimony from more than 60 witnesses.

Assistant District Attorney Paul Parisi told the State Supreme Court jury that Sean Austin and Maurice Howie, both 17, left a trail of evidence that points to their guilt, “a trail that ended in the blood of Mazen M. Abdallah” around 5:30 a.m. last March 6.

He cited the cellphone used by the defendants to call the cab to the Commodore Perry Homes near downtown that morning to pick them up, security camera video of two men getting into the cab, one witness’ identification of the defendants as those men and the finding of the 55-year-old victim’s blood and the defendants’ DNA on their clothing as well as the linking of Howie’s DNA to handles on one of the cab’s rear doors.

He also said Austin told police last April that Howie told him he and a person he called Dev had killed the cab driver.

The defense attorneys described the evidence as circumstantial, noting that other people often used the cellphone and questioning the motives of the witness who identified their clients and the strength of the DNA findings.

Austin and Howie, a star quarterback at South Park High School, are charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree robbery in the fatal attack on Abdallah, an Airport Taxi driver who became a U.S. citizen after coming to the United States from his home near Jerusalem about two decades ago. Both defendants were 16 at the time of the slaying.

The fatal holdup was the last in a series of six robberies targeting cab drivers and food deliverymen that started in late 2012. Austin has been charged in all six robberies. Howie has been charged in two of them.

D’Amico, Howie’s attorney, said a statement by Austin to police blaming Howie can’t be used by the jury in reaching a verdict. “Sean Austin is trying to cover his behind, so he blames Howie,” the defense attorney said.

He also questioned the finding of Howie’s DNA in the cab, suggesting that his DNA was transferred to the cab through his contact with others.

Schwartz, Austin’s attorney, said Howie and others often used his client’s cellphone to make and take calls and that Austin shared his clothes with his friends, explaining why a mix of DNA from three males was on his sweatpants. He also said his client’s DNA was not found in the cab.