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Cocaine addict sentenced to 25 years for killing East Side Vietnam veteran

Robert Bennett Sr. was a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran who made a living selling cigarettes out of his East Side home.

Last March, Andre Johnson, a 20-year-old cocaine addict who had been drinking a lot that day, went to his home and robbed him of cigarettes, some cash and a BB gun, then shot him in the back of the head with a handgun.

Johnson was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years in prison, the maximum term he could get for his guilty plea to first-degree manslaughter.

Before sentencing, State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller asked Johnson:

“I want to know why you as a strong, 20-year-old man would shoot a 70-year-old man in the back of the head, when he was trying to make a living selling cigarettes,” he asked.

Johnson apologized for his actions, telling the judge he had been drinking heavily and taking cocaine on March 28 when he went to the victim’s home.

“I don’t remember half of what happened that day,” he said. “I wish it had never happened.”

The judge said he does not accept drinking or drugs as an excuse for what Johnson did.

“There are a lot of cocaine addicts out there, and they never put a gun to the back of a 70-year-old man’s head,” Boller told him.

The victim’s son, Robert C. Bennett Jr., also addressed the court, reading a statement from his 11-year-old daughter who was very close to her grandfather and had visited him four days before he was killed.

“His family and friends loved Robert Bennett Sr.,” the statement said. “Why did you take him away from us? I feel hurt. He wasn’t supposed to die like this. I miss him,” it said.

Outside the courtroom, Robert Bennett Jr., of Niagara Falls, said he was satisfied with the sentence, “even though it doesn’t bring back my father,” a veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam.

“It’s hard to wrap your brain around something like this,” he said.

Assistant District Attorney James Bargnesi told reporters the 25-year prison term was an appropriate sentence. He praised Buffalo homicide detectives for finding the shooter and arresting Johnson in June.

Defense attorney E. Carey Cantwell said his client started drinking at the age of 7 and lived on the streets, leading to this tragedy.