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Plea talks underway in Falls homicide case

LOCKPORT – A defense attorney said Friday that discussions of a plea bargain are under way in the April 27 stabbing death of a man in a Niagara Falls hotel.

Ashley M. Berger, 31, of Third Street in the Falls, remains in the Niagara County Jail on a murder charge filed after the stabbing death of Richard A. Christian, 22, in the Rodeway Inn on Main Street. He died from a single stab wound in the chest, after which Berger reportedly called police to say that a man had collapsed outside her room and she didn’t know who he was.

Although the case is six months old, no grand jury indictment has been issued.

Assistant Public Defender A. Joseph Catalano met Friday with Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas and Deputy District Attorneys Doreen M. Hoffmann and Holly E. Sloma. Afterward, Catalano said a plea is on the table and, although he wouldn’t give details, he said the delay in the case is attributable to DNA testing on evidence from the hotel room.

Hoffmann confirmed Catalano’s account. Berger is scheduled for a court appearance Nov. 7.

In another case Friday, a Niagara Falls man already awaiting sentencing in connection with a home invasion was arraigned on an indictment accusing him of a drive-by shooting.

Donald Rodgers Jr., 22, of Cudaback Avenue, pleaded not guilty to attempted first-degree assault and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, stemming from a June 18 shooting on Niagara Street in the Falls.

A co-defendant, Lester M. Streeter, 19, of Orleans Avenue, is to be arraigned Tuesday in that case and a second drive-by shooting on the same street June 19.

Rodgers pleaded guilty July 29 to second-degree assault, covering a Sept. 11, 2013, three-man attack on Jeffrey Crockett, the new boyfriend of Rodgers’ former girlfriend, in the woman’s Memorial Parkway home. Five weeks later, Crockett was shot in the arm in another attack.

In another Falls case Friday, Markee Christian, 26, of 19th Street, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault for his role in the Aug. 28, 2013, robbery and beating of a man outside the Falls City Market at 19th Street and Ashland Avenue.

Christian, who is to be sentenced Dec. 5, told County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III that he reached into the pockets of the victim while his co-defendant struck him.

Kenneth L. Graham II, 26, of Lafayette Avenue in the Falls, is serving a seven-year prison term for beating that victim with the cast on Graham’s broken arm. The victim suffered four cracked ribs and was robbed of $2,000.

In a Lockport case, Shamir W. Allen, charged with a Lockport home invasion and a burglary, agreed to give a DNA sample but rejected a plea offer.

Allen, 19, is charged with pistol-whipping a man in an apartment on Dysinger Road in the Town of Lockport on March 4 and of breaking into a home on Day Road in Lockport on April 29.

Allen, who listed a Charlotte, N.C., address but was arrested in Rochester, was offered a plea to one Class C felony to cover both incidents, or to two separate Class D felonies. The maximum sentence would have been 15 years for the first option and 14 years for the second.

Allen told Murphy he’s not getting along with Catalano, and wants a different public defender. Murphy said it’s not up to him which public defenders are assigned to cases, but the judge assured Allen that Catalano “isn’t just a public defender. He’s a real criminal attorney.”