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Man convicted of shooting immigrant from Taiwan in store holdup

Shaiw Pai came to this country 19 years ago from Taiwan seeking a better life for his wife and daughters. He worked as the manager of a sneaker store in a Jefferson Avenue shopping plaza.

But his pursuit of the American dream nearly ended on March 21, 2014, when a masked gunman with a .22-caliber rifle entered Sneakertown and ordered everyone down on the floor.

Pai, standing next to the door and fearing for his wife who was working at the cash register, pushed the gunman back through the door and into the vestibule.

The gunman charged back in and fired one shot. It went through Pai’s arm, which was raised in a defensive position, and into his chest, piercing his pancreas and leaving him near death.

He was rushed to the hospital and eventually recovered, but the 59-year-old victim can no longer work because of his injuries.

The gunman ran out of the store. More than three months later, a suspect was arrested, and Friday afternoon, an Erie County Court jury returned its verdict after deliberating more than seven hours over two days.

Keith McDonald, 27, was convicted of attempted first-degree robbery, attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

McDonald faces a prison sentence of at least 15 years to life and at most 25 years to life on the most serious charge, attempted first-degree murder.

Nicholas W. Hicks, McDonald’s attorney, said he will file a motion to set aside the verdict. Judge Sheila A. DiTullio scheduled a hearing for May 28.

During the week-long trial, Assistant District Attorneys John Gerken Jr. and Michael P. Felicetta presented DNA evidence linking the defendant to the rifle and the hoodie, gloves and green jumpsuit that the gunman discarded as he fled.

The items were found in a backyard on Landon Street, which borders the shopping plaza, as McDonald ran to his girlfriend’s nearby apartment.

Police questioned the girlfriend after a surveillance camera video showed her talking to the gunman near the sneaker store shortly before the shooting and just after she got out of work at a nearby grocery store.

She told police that the gunman, who prosecutors said was carrying a garbage bag containing the rifle as he pretended to rummage through a trash can outside the sneaker store like a garbage picker, stopped her and asked her if she wanted to buy some cigarettes. She said she didn’t know who he was.

Gerken told the jury in his closing statement that the girlfriend was lying. He said she talked to the gunman for about two minutes because she knew it was McDonald.

After DNA tests linked McDonald to the rifle and clothing, police picked him up July 8 at his workplace and questioned him. He told police he didn’t recognize photos of the rifle and clothing found on Landon.

When they told him his DNA was on them, he said he didn’t know how it got there. He said somebody must have put it there. He also said he often threw old clothes in the trash and that the gunman might have picked up some of his clothes and worn them that day.

“Some 007 set me up,” he said in the recorded statement, which was played for the jury.

The jury also saw video from the store’s security camera showing the gunman entering the store and ordering everyone to get down on the floor before shooting Pai as the victim’s wife screams in horror.

email: jstaas@buffnews.com