LOCKPORT – Done in by surveillance video and the distinctive orange-soled sneakers he wore on the day of the crime, Joachim S. Sylvester sat quietly Monday as a Niagara County Court jury convicted him of attempted second-degree murder in an April 17 effort to shoot a Niagara Falls man.
Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann acknowledged after court that the prosecution wouldn’t have been able to gain a conviction against Sylvester if it were not for the security cameras mounted outside Highland Deli in the Falls.
The cameras recorded, from two angles, images of a man Hoffmann said was Sylvester firing two shots at Larry Miller of the Falls on a sunny Thursday afternoon, scattering pedestrians in front of the store on Highland Avenue.
The video wasn’t clear enough to prove from his face alone that the shooter was Sylvester, 38, of Ontario Avenue in the Falls. But Hoffmann told the jury, “Watch the sneakers; watch the gray jacket.”
A couple of weeks after the incident, Detective Thomas G. Ewing interviewed Sylvester and confiscated a pair of sneakers with orange soles. And Hoffmann had corroboration in the form of another video, taken from a security camera at a collision shop next to the Hertz car rental store in the Falls, which showed a man walking through the parking lot about a half-hour after the shooting. The tape, shot from behind, showed orange soles as the man walked.
“There is not a doubt those are the same clothes,” Hoffmann told the jury.
A Hertz clerk testified that man was Sylvester, who was just returning a silver Chevy Captiva – the same color and model of sport utility vehicle seen as the shooter’s vehicle on the Highland Avenue tape.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for three hours, much of which was spent in the courtroom playing and replaying the videos, projected on a large flat-screen monitor connected to a laptop computer.
A juror operated the computer mouse, freeze-framing and rewinding the tape, concentrating especially on one image that showed the orange soles clearly as the shooter got back into the silver SUV after firing two rounds at Miller.
Hoffmann also said the man on the tape had a gun in his hand. The muzzle flash of one of the shots was clear on the tape.
Sylvester was charged with firing one round from inside the car as he slammed on the brakes in front of the deli. The shot missed Miller, who was standing behind a black Dodge Avenger at the curb, and left a bullet hole in the left rear fender of that vehicle.
Miller ran across the street to his own SUV and climbed into the passenger side; his girlfriend was driving. The shooter jumped out of his SUV and ran onto the sidewalk across the street from the deli, firing at Miller’s vehicle as it sped away, careening out of control and plowing into the Avenger on the other side of the street before managing to get away.
Two bullet holes were found in the right side of Miller’s vehicle. Hoffmann contended that one of them got there two nights before, when a neighbor heard shots fired on Willow Avenue.
Miller didn’t show up to testify. “There should be no surprise that a person who was shot at twice in two days would be afraid,” Hoffmann said in her summation.
Defense attorney Angelo Musitano, who told the jury that he didn’t think the evidence was conclusive enough, declined to comment on the verdict.
“I think that they reviewed the evidence and came to a proper verdict,” Hoffmann said.
Sylvester, who had turned down a plea offer with a 10-year limit on sentencing, could now face up to 40 years in prison: 25 for attempted murder and 15 for a companion count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III revoked his bail pending sentencing Jan. 2.
“It’s very likely the defendant will be sentenced to a lengthy state prison sentence,” Murphy said.
Less than a month before the shooting, Murphy had dismissed a felony marijuana-possession charge against Sylvester and another man, contending that Falls police had engaged in racial profiling in making what the judge considered an unjustified traffic stop.