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Woman charged with contempt for refusing to testify in murder trial

A Buffalo woman accused of refusing to answer a prosecutor’s questions at her boyfriend’s murder trial last summer has been charged with second-degree criminal contempt.

Shakeena Butler, 18, of Hewitt Avenue, was subpoenaed to testify July 10 for the prosecution against Damone Lewis in the Aug. 8, 2012, fatal shooting of Jeremy Thomas on Sumner Place.

Lewis, 19, was accused of shooting Thomas, 21, to collect a $2,500 bounty offered by a man allegedly shot by Thomas two weeks earlier during a dice game.

Butler was brought to the witness stand twice and refused to answer any questions, even after State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang warned her that she would be held in contempt and face imprisonment of up to a year.

Another girlfriend of Lewis and one of his friends both testified that Lewis took credit for killing Thomas.

A jury convicted Lewis of second-degree murder and weapon possession, and Wolfgang sentenced him to 20 years to life in prison.

Lewis also was charged with shooting and paralyzing a 15-year-old girl Aug. 30, 2012, at Wood and Walden avenues, after Butler got into a fight with the girl and called Lewis on her cellphone.

The victim identified Lewis as the shooter shortly after the attack, and he later pleaded guilty. At his sentencing, the victim changed her story and said Lewis was not the shooter.

Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio allowed Lewis to withdraw his guilty plea, even though prosecutors argued that Lewis had tried to intimidate the key witness.

When homicide detectives re-interviewed the victim a few days later, she reasserted her identification of Lewis as the shooter and admitted that she had been scared at his sentencing. She also indicated that she would testify against him at trial.

Rather than face another trial, Lewis pleaded guilty earlier this year to attempted murder, first-degree assault and weapon possession. DiTullio sentenced him to an additional 10 years in prison.

District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said Butler was charged with contempt because “such crimes, if proven, go to the very integrity of the criminal-justice system.”

“Obviously, this a very serious matter because of the nature of the case in which she refused to testify,” he said. “Damone Lewis, without question a vicious sociopath, was convicted of heinous crimes – murdering someone and shooting a 15-year-old girl and paralyzing her for life.”

In an unrelated case, Sedita said Kelisa Goree pleaded guilty as charged March 16 to first-degree perjury and second-degree criminal contempt for lying to a grand jury and refusing to answer questions after her lies were exposed.

Goree, 27, of Riley Street, was called to testify before the grand jury investigating allegations that her boyfriend, Quandrell Patterson, 28, shot at a store owner Aug. 2 on Jefferson Avenue.

The grand jury indicted Patterson last September. He pleaded guilty March 5 to weapon possession, first-degree assault and tampering with a witness for asking his girlfriend to dissuade the victim from testifying against him.

State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller will sentence Patterson on May 29 and Goree on June 12.