The man accused of shooting a kitchen worker during the dinner hour at the Anchor Bar was convicted of second-degree murder Friday by an Erie County jury.
Jurors convicted Jorge Suarez, 26, in the May 20, 2016, death of Freddie Dizon.
The panel convicted Suarez after three hours of deliberations following the 9-day trial before Erie County Court Judge Thomas P. Franczyk. Suarez was also found guilty of criminal possession of a weapon.
"We were very disappointed," defense lawyer Gary Phillips said of the verdict. "One of their main witnesses just came forward Nov. 17. For some reason, he decided to remain mum. There were no eye witnesses."
"Nobody saw his face or heard his voice. Nobody actually saw the shooting," added Mark Worrell, another defense lawyer for Suarez. "It happened in a passageway between the kitchen and public area and they never found a gun."
Of the late witness, Colleen Curtin Gable, head of the District Attorney's Homicide Bureau, said he was a young kitchen worker and had provided the information months ago to two older workers and assumed they would pass it on to police. He had spotted tattoos on the shooter's right hand and left arm. When police recently met with him, he said he had thought they would have reached out to him sooner.
"It wasn't like he just sprang up a few weeks ago," said Curtin Gable, who prosecuted the case with Assistant District Attorney John P. Feroleto.
Freddie Dizon, 32, was killed around 7 p.m., shortly after he arrived at the restaurant where he had worked for more than 10 years. Security cameras in the business and at other locations outside captured the gunman as he walked in through an employee entrance at the back of the kitchen, passed through the work area like someone who knew his way, and then walked out of range of the cameras.
As witnesses who were there that night narrated, the jury heard how people at first thought the intruder was another worker kidding around, since he had a T-shirt wrapped around his head to hide his face. They said it was a good place to work, "like family," and people had fun with each other.
But then it becomes clear this was not a joke. Although there is not sound on the video, it is obvious when the shots were fired. On the monitors in the courtroom, the jury sees startled kitchen workers and people in the bar area duck and try to take cover. Dizon comes back into camera range, half-running, trying to escape, with a dark spot expanding in the white shirt over his chest.
Finally, he goes out the door that leads to the parking lot.
Marcella Wright, who has been working at the Anchor Bar since 1975, said that at first she thought Dizon also was playing a joke. After all, she had just talked to him a few minutes earlier. Then she saw the blood all over his white shirt. She said when Dizon went outside, two Toronto police officers who were there having dinner went to Dizon's aid and told her to get something to cover him.
An ambulance arrived quickly, and as they were putting Dizon inside, she said, "I asked if I could talk to him so I could tell his mother he was OK. They said no, but opened the door. I hollered, 'Freddie, are you OK?' and he said, 'No, no Marce, I'm not.'"
While all that was happening, other security cameras in the neighborhood caught images of the man with the T-shirt on his head hurrying away from the shooting scene at 1047 Main St. and back to a waiting car a few streets away on Linwood.
Gregory Ramos, 25, was driving that car, prosecutors say. He also is charged with Dizon's murder but will be tried separately. He currently is in Sing Sing, serving a four-year prison term for the attempted strangulation of his girlfriend the same night as Dizon was shot, allegedly because she confronted him about whether he was involved in the crime.
Also that night, Jorge Suarez was arrested.
Investigators quickly learned that Suarez, a former Anchor Bar employee, and Dizon had a history, both good and bad. The families were close, and Dizon had three children with Suarez's cousin. Dizon also had accused Suarez of molesting one of those children.
Before the trial began, however, the court informed the jury that Child Protective Services investigated the claims and found no basis for the accusation.
But Dizon wouldn't let it go. When he saw Suarez back in his neighborhood, he began posting accusations and insults on social media, labeling Suarez a molester and issuing profanity-filled threats and challenges, even to the point of posting a challenge to "Do something," adding that Suarez knew where to find him.
That is what led police to Suarez. The Toronto officers who tried to help Dizon said that he told them, "It was Jorge. He touched my son. He raped my son."
However, they also thought Dizon said the last name "Quinones," not "Suarez."
Following the conviction, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said Buffalo homicide detectives and prosecutors built a strong case based on circumstantial evidence in the absence of DNA evidence.
"The victim used the wrong last name but it is clear he knew who the shooter was," Flynn said. "Police did a thorough search of the name Jorge Quinones and were able to eliminate any possibility of anyone with that name being associated with the homicide."
Dizon's statement and his social media posts about the sexual assault, Flynn said, provided a motive for the killing.
In denying he was the killer during an interview with detectives later on the night of the shooting, Suarez told them to check his Facebook, his Snapchat, his Instagram, and that he would give them his password. They all showed he was at a party, he said.
But what prosecutors said the postings showed was that Suarez was at a party wearing the same clothes as the gunman who was in and out of the Anchor Bar around 7 o'clock.
And while Suarez used the social media posted with his phone to try to show the party, the phone itself provided other information. One of the final prosecution witnesses showed the jury cell phone records indicating that the phone was "pinging" with calls and data first from the area of the party and then, switching towers, to a transmitter directly north of the Anchor Bar.
Suarez's lawyers also criticized prosecutors for using "a jailhouse snitch" to build their case, pointing out that in exchange for his cooperation he had cut a deal with the DA's office for leniency.
Flynn said the jury was well aware of the situation but found the individual to be a credible witness.
"It was pretty clear the witness had information that could have only come from the source and that source was the defendant," Flynn said.
The DA commended Homicide Detective Sgt. Carl Lundin and Detectives James Kaska and Brendan Kiefer for their work in the case.
Suarez is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 21.
Gregory Ramos is scheduled to return to court Wednesday, Dec. 13.