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Niagara Falls man gets 25 years for attempted murder

LOCKPORT – Joachim S. Sylvester was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years in state prison for trying to shoot a man to death in broad daylight last year in Niagara Falls.

Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III could have given Sylvester 40 years, but rejected a prosecution request to make a 15-year sentence for criminal possession of a weapon run consecutively with the 25-year term for attempted murder.

Sylvester, 39, of Ontario Avenue in the Falls, was convicted by a jury in October 2014 of trying to gun down Larry Miller on Highland Avenue on April 17, 2014.

The afternoon shooting was captured on videotape by cameras mounted outside a store. They showed a man identified as Sylvester exiting a sport utility vehicle and firing a gun at a pedestrian, who ran to an SUV driven by his girlfriend. That SUV plowed into a parked car as it fled the scene.

Sylvester left seconds later, and a surveillance video at a local Hertz car rental office showed a man who, according to a clerk, had just returned the same type of vehicle seen being driven by the shooter. The clerk said the customer was Sylvester.

The man walking across the parking lot was wearing orange-soled sneakers, and the crime scene video also showed the shooter wearing orange-soled sneakers, according to Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann. After running the video backward and forward numerous times, the jury agreed.

“The video clearly shows a lot of innocent bystanders, including a child,” Hoffmann said Tuesday. “The fact that Mr. Sylvester would pull out a gun and start shooting shows who he is in the community of Niagara Falls.”

After his conviction, Sylvester tried to have the verdict overturned, and changed attorneys from Angelo Musitano to Frank LoTempio III. The latter obtained a statement from Miller, who police were unable to locate in order to have him testify at the trial.

In the statement, Miller claimed that he had no issues with Sylvester and didn’t know who shot at him. Prosecutors had left out of the indictment a reported effort to shoot Miller in front of his home two days before the Highland Avenue incident; Sylvester was the suspect there, too, but the evidence was deemed not strong enough to obtain an indictment.

Prosecutors hadn’t needed Miller’s testimony to convict Sylvester, and other witnesses identified Miller as the target of the April 17 shooting. Murphy rejected the motion to set aside the guilty verdict.

LoTempio said Sylvester wrote “an angry letter” to Murphy. Sylvester said in court Tuesday that he was complaining about “two-faced justice.”

He said he’s met other inmates in jail who he said committed similar crimes to his but received better plea deals. “I’m not understanding who gets these favors,” he said.

Sylvester had rejected a plea offer less than two weeks before his trial that would have limited his prison time to 15 years.

The shooting occurred less than a month after Murphy dismissed felony marijuana possession charges against Sylvester and another man, ruling that Falls police had indulged in illegal “racial profiling” in pulling over the Hummer in which the pot was found.

Sylvester complained that he had been denied bail because of the potential sentence he faced, but former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, convicted last week on federal corruption charges in New York City, was allowed to go free.

“The maximum sentence is 100 years. Sheldon Silver, 71 years old, a millionaire. What’s the likelihood of him turning himself in to jail?” Sylvester asked.