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Appellate Court upholds second conviction in 2006 West Side murder

Three years ago, Jose Mejia received the maximum prison sentence of 25 years to life for stealing a man’s sneakers and then gunning him down as the man ran away in his socks.

At his sentencing, Mejia predicted the convictions would be reversed.

He may have had reason to think that, as the second-degree murder and robbery convictions came at a retrial after he won appeal of his earlier murder conviction in the case.

“I was here before. I’ll be here again,” he told State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang.

But on Friday, one day after the third anniversary of his sentencing, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court upheld the second conviction.

At his first trial in 2007, a jury found Mejia guilty of first-degree murder for shooting Darryl L. Jones in the back shortly after the 22-year-old victim stepped off a Metro bus on his way to visit his fiancee around 1 a.m. June 22, 2006, at 16th and Vermont streets on Buffalo’s West Side.

The Appellate Division granted Mejia a new trial, ruling that statements he made to police should have been suppressed.

At his 2011 retrial, another jury acquitted Mejia of first-degree murder but convicted him of second-degree murder without hearing his statements to police.

Luis R. Hernandez, an accomplice who previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter for his role in the killing, refused to testify during the retrial.

Instead, prosecutors read from a transcript from the first trial to re-create Hernandez’s testimony.

After Mejia took Jones’ wallet and Air Jordan sneakers, Jones started running away, Hernandez testified. “The kid got up,” Hernandez recalled during the first trial. “The kid started running. Jose shot him.”

In appealing his second conviction, Mejia contended that Wolfgang erred in allowing the jury to hear Hernandez’s testimony from the first trial, denying Mejia’s right to confront witnesses against him.

The Appellate Division disagreed.

“The co-defendant refused to testify based on his belief that his plea agreement with the people did not require him to testify twice, and his refusal to testify constituted incapacity inasmuch as the court threatened to hold the co-defendant in contempt, and indeed did hold him in contempt, for his refusal to testify,” the appellate judges said.

“Contrary to defendant’s further contention, the court did not abuse its discretion in not allowing the co-defendant to be called to the stand and refuse to testify in front of the jury and in not charging the jury that the witness refused to testify.”

The judges also rejected Mejia’s contention that the guilty verdict was against the weight of the evidence. They also said the sentence was not unduly harsh or severe.