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Appeals court throws out Falls man’s murder conviction

LOCKPORT – An appeals court ruled unanimously Friday that Matthew A. Davis didn’t cause a Niagara Falls man’s death by beating him during a robbery at the victim’s apartment.

The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester threw out Davis’ murder conviction, ruling that Antoine M. Bradberry, 41, died of a heart attack Aug. 22, 2011, and that the prosecution in the 2012 Niagara County Court trial didn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the beating inflicted on Bradberry led to his death.

The five-judge appellate panel did not order a new trial, deciding instead to change the verdict. It let stand Davis’ convictions for first-degree robbery and first-degree burglary, meaning Davis, 40, who had been serving 25 years to life in prison for murder, now serves a flat 25 years on those charges. Typically, an inmate is eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of a determinate sentence.

The Niagara County District Attorney’s Office will appeal Friday’s ruling, Assistant District Attorney Thomas H. Brandt said.

“We respectfully disagree, and we will be asking the Court of Appeals to review the causation issues and review the transcripts,” Brandt said. There is a 30-day deadline to file appeal papers in Albany, and then Davis’ court-appointed appellate attorney, Patricia M. McGrath of Lockport, will have time to respond.

McGrath said the main focus was the testimony of Erie County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Dianne Vertes, who took the stand, even though she hadn’t performed the autopsy on Bradberry herself, and testified that if it weren’t for the stress of the fight with Davis, Bradberry, an obese man with heart issues, wouldn’t have died. The appellate panel noted that the worst injury inflicted on Bradberry was a broken jaw, which it deemed not life-threatening.

The autopsy report said the cause of death was “hypertensive cardiovascular disease,” with obesity a contributing factor.

“Her testimony went a little further than the report,” McGrath said of Vertes. “She testified that but for that (struggle), he would not have had the heart attack. That simply is not the correct standard to use in a homicide case.”

Brandt said, “In our view, the medical examiner testified sufficiently to show that (Davis’) actions were the direct cause of the death.”

However, the appellate ruling said Vertes “did not testify that defendant’s culpable act was a direct cause of the death, or that the fatal result was reasonably foreseeable. We thus conclude that the evidence is legally insufficient to establish that the defendant committed felony murder.”

“Felony murder” is defined as causing the death of a victim in the course of committing another felony – in this case, the robbery and burglary.

The trial jury was out for about two hours, and about half of that was a lunch break, recalled defense attorney Phillip Dabney Jr., who represented Davis at the trial, along with co-counsel Michael S. Deal.

Dabney called the appellate ruling “wonderful,” saying the court adopted the very same arguments he and Deal made at the trial.

“It was our argument from the very beginning that there was never sufficiency that the burglary, the robbery, were the cause (of death),” Dabney said.

“The other part of our defense was that the evidence wasn’t sufficient to establish Matthew’s involvement in the case,” Deal said. There was a surveillance video of a man with his face covered entering Bradberry’s apartment.

The prosecutors in the trial, Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann and Brian D. Seaman, who is now an assistant county attorney, both declined comment on Friday’s ruling.

One of the key witnesses was Teara D. Fatico, now 25, who was Davis’ mistress. She said that she and a professional stripper, Chastity L. Wilson, now 25, visited Bradberry’s apartment at Davis’ behest to see if Bradberry had anything worth stealing. After they left Bradberry’s apartment in the Jefferson Apartments on Rainbow Boulevard in Niagara Falls, Davis entered and tried to make off with a cache of marijuana stored in the refrigerator. Wilson refused to testify against Davis.

Both women pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree burglary and are serving 13-year prison terms. Both of their guilty pleas were upheld on appeal, Fatico’s in July 2013 and Wilson’s last May.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com