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Hate crime charge set aside in Lockport shooting; victim’s mother disrupts court

LOCKPORT – The mother of a Lockport man who remains hospitalized after being shot two months ago screamed at the judge and the defendant when the defendant’s bail was reduced at his arraignment Friday.

Lockport police originally charged Josiah J. Chandler, 19, of Genesee Street, with attempted second-degree murder as a hate crime, because the black youth allegedly made some racial comments to the white shooting victim, Colton Baker-Durst, 20, during an argument before the shooting.

Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann told Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon that she has a very strong case. “The defendant did confess to the crime, the weapon was recovered and there is a video of the crime being committed,” the prosecutor said.

Lockport Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert said the video came from a surveillance camera on a house near the corner of Church and Green streets, where police found Baker-Durst lying about 12:25 a.m. Nov. 26. He had been shot multiple times in the back, apparently while running away.

However, Hoffmann said she didn’t ask a grand jury to include the hate crime feature in Chandler’s indictment. “It adds extra elements that aren’t necessary, and it doesn’t affect the sentencing parameters,” Hoffmann said.

If a defendant is convicted of committing a crime out of hatred over the victim’s race, religion, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation, that factor increases the minimum sentence, but the maximum sentence does not change.

Chandler still faces a maximum of 40 years in prison if he is convicted on each count of the indictment: attempted murder, first-degree assault and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. The mandatory minimum would be five years, but if the matter had been judged a hate crime, the minimum would be eight years.

Chandler pleaded not guilty, and a tentative trial date was set for June 29.

What seemed to set Baker-Durst’s mother off was Sheldon’s decision to set bail at $150,000 instead of the $250,000 originally set in City Court.

Hoffmann asked for the higher figure, but without giving a reason, Sheldon made her decision after taking a few minutes to read police reports on the case.

Baker-Durst’s mother, whose name was unavailable, started screaming, “Sixty-five days we’ve been going to the hospital, all day. Sixty-five days my son is laying in a bed. Sixty-five days I haven’t worked. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars?”

By this time, the woman was storming across the courtroom, although she remained in the spectator area as she turned her ire on Chandler. “You took our lives, our family!” she screamed.

The angry mother crashed into the double set of courtroom doors, only one of which was unlocked, and yelled “Let me out of here! Let me out of here!” before making her exit into the rotunda of the County Courthouse, still hollering.

“A lot of emotion in this case,” said Sheldon, who did not have the woman arrested.

“We’ve always deferred to the DA’s Office in charging in this case,” Eggert said when asked about Hoffmann’s decision to drop the hate crime charge. “She’s a pretty confident prosecutor, one of the best over there, so if that’s her decision, I’m going to go with it.”