Eric Jones’ trial on drug possession and narcotics sales was supposed to start Monday morning in State Supreme Court in Buffalo.
By late morning, jurors were being sent home and the trial was canceled.
That’s because Jones was fatally shot Sunday night on the city’s West Side, hours before opening statements were slated to be delivered.
Jones, 35, was shot while he was sitting in a vehicle near the intersection of Herkimer and Helen streets, two blocks west of Grant Street, just before 8:30 p.m. He died at the scene, a police spokesman said in an email.
Parties involved in Jones’ trial on drug charges were notified Monday morning that the defendant would not be available. Jones was accused of drug possession and intent to sell narcotics, and was free on bond when he was killed. He had been in court late last week for jury selection and his attorney, Michael L. D’Amico, said they had been in contact on Saturday about the case.
He said he wasn’t aware of any recent threats toward his client, and noted that a co-defendant in the case already had pleaded guilty.
The case grew out of Jones’ arrest in January when he was spotted selling drugs a block away from where he was shot.
Monday morning, three prayer candles and a ceramic angel statue sat on what appeared to be a blood-stained curb on Helen Street, not far from the corner of Herkimer. Shards of broken glass had been pushed into small piles along the curb nearby.
A neighbor said she heard six gunshots Sunday night.
“The house just shook it was so loud,” she said. Her granddaughter was out on the porch of her home just minutes before the shooting, she said.
Monday morning, State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia notified the jurors there would be a delay before the proceedings began. Out of their hearing, Assistant District Attorney Paul Williams told the judge an autopsy was currently underway on Jones and his office was awaiting the official death certificate before it dismissed the indictment.
Noting that the jurors were waiting, Buscaglia urged the attorneys to do what they could to expedite the formal identification, and by late morning, the jurors were free to go. While people in the courthouse could recall defendants who were killed or died by their own hand before or after their trials, those involved in this case said it was the first time they could recall losing a defendant as a trial was just about to get underway.
Several people familiar with Jones said it was possible he was involved in one or more altercations in his West Side neighborhood in the weeks before his trial. Police ask anyone who may have information about Sunday night’s shooting to call or text the police department’s confidential tip line at 847-2255.