The two women involved in one of the first homicides of 2017 were so much alike that they made the same mistake, a judge said on Monday. They both became involved with the wrong man.
Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk, who sentenced Nadiyah Z. Whitaker to 19 years in prison for manslaughter, acknowledged that both Whitaker and her victim, Shanna Mason, were considered caring and compassionate women by those who knew and worked with them.
"But the both of you seem to make common mistakes," Franczyk said, "to get involved with someone I can only describe as a selfish, deceitful cad."
Whitaker, 32, who previously pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, shot Mason on New Year's Day morning when the two women met accidentally at the man's home. The shooting was captured by security camera.
Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable called it "a brutal, brutal murder."
Mason, 30, of Sloan was hit by bullets in her head and her shoulders. She died instantly.
Even defense attorney Thomas Eoannou conceded it was a horrible situation, compounded by the similarities between the women. Both worked in health care, both came from hardworking, close-knit families, and both "were preyed upon by the same manipulative man."
Whitaker had dated Wilbur Livingston on and off for 10 years, in what was an abusive relationship in which the man "flaunted his infidelities," Eoannou said.
But on Dec. 30, Livingston said all that was over. He proposed to Whitaker again and got a marriage license. Whitaker planned to announce their engagement at a party the next night, New Year's Eve.
But her fiance didn't pick her up. He took another woman – Mason – to the party, and left Whitaker at her home in Cheektowaga. Distraught, Whitaker went to the Gold Street house where her fiance stayed, hoping to find him there. While she was there, she picked up a gun that he had for protection.
After a long night, Livingston came back to the house with Mason, and Whitaker confronted the pair.
"A shovel was picked up, a name was called – it was just too much for her," Eoannou said.
Three mental health experts who examined Whitaker determined she was suffering from extreme emotional disturbance when she fired the gun. That prompted the District Attorney's Office to agree to the manslaughter plea rather than pursuing the murder charge that Whitaker originally faced. Instead of facing a possible 25 years to life sentence, the maximum she faced was 25 years in prison.
Pauline Mason, the victim's mother, spoke in court before the sentence was pronounced. She didn't ask for any specific punishment.
She simply told the judge that she had lost her only child and her best friend. Mason was the mother of three children whom she loved and adored.
"All I'm asking is justice for Shanna Ashere' Mason, because I want Shanna Ashere' Mason to rest in peace," she said with sadness in her voice.
Judge Franczyk expressed sympathy for the victim's mother and noted the unfortunate circumstances that resulted in the fatal confrontation.
Speaking directly to Whitaker, he also noted, "Of course, I would never wish this on anyone, but in the story of this case, you shot the wrong person."
In addition to the 19-year prison term, Franczyk ordered five years of post-release supervision.
Eoannou said that, with time served, Whitaker should be freed in about 15 years. He also said that he understands that Livingston is currently jailed on drug charges, after being indicted in both Pennsylvania and Tennessee.