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Domestic violence murder trial ends with guilty plea

The murder trial of a man accused in the strangulation death of his girlfriend abruptly concluded Wednesday when the defendant pleaded guilty.

Raymond Smith, 25, admitted in Erie County Court that he beat and strangled Shaquilla Coston, 21, in her home at 43 Northumberland on Feb. 1, 2015. No specific motive for the killing had been presented in the trial, but testimony indicated that Coston had been the victim of ongoing domestic violence.

One friend testified that Coston told her she was afraid of Smith, and that in November 2014 she saw Smith choke Coston and threaten her in a home they shared.

About a month before her death, Coston moved into her own apartment with the 18-month-old son she and Smith had together.

Assistant District Attorneys Gary Hackbush and Paul Parisi on Wednesday morning notified the court they recently became aware of new evidence, discovered in letters written by Smith’s brother to a girlfriend. The brother is currently a state prison inmate and was being transported to court to testify for the prosecution when Smith opted to plead guilty as charged to second-degree murder.

In accepting the plea, Judge Thomas P. Franczyk said he would consider a sentence in the range of 20 to 24 years to life in prison. Smith would have faced a possible 25 years to life had he been convicted at trial.

Sentencing is scheduled for March 9.

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