Attorneys on both sides of an emotion-packed homicide case involving a West Seneca shooting are preparing to go to trial for the third time in State Supreme Court in Buffalo.
The attorneys agree that it is rare for any criminal case to go to trial a third time after two mistrials.
The murder case of Andre Lewis – who shot and killed his ex-stepfather during an argument over a girls’ basketball game in West Seneca – is scheduled for a trial that begins April 4 before Judge Russell P. Buscaglia.
In the two previous trials, jurors were unable to reach unanimous agreement about the events of April 29, 2017.
“Nobody in my office has ever heard of this happening before in this county,” said Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn.
Police said Lewis twice shot Robert Todd Echols, 54, during a heated argument in the lobby of the Niagara Frontier Sports Complex, 425 Meyer Road in West Seneca. The argument among family members broke out shortly after a game in a girls’ basketball tournament. Echols' 13-year-old daughter, Terah Echols, had played in the game.
Lewis, 41, is a military veteran who worked 17 years for New York State with the mentally disabled. He is charged with second-degree murder. Lewis, who had a license to carry his handgun, claimed he shot Echols in self-defense after Echols attacked and began punching him as Lewis held his baby daughter in his arms.
Prosecutors argued in two trials last year that the shooting was not justified under the law. Flynn said Lewis initially shot Echols in the face, and then shot him a second time in the back while Echols was on his hands and knees on the floor. Jurors at both trials viewed a security videotape of the incident.
“In my view, this shooting does not qualify under the law as an action of self-defense,” Flynn said.
He said he was especially troubled by the second shot.
Both the shooter and the dead man were from the Rochester area. Lewis is represented by two Rochester attorneys, Teo X. Siguenza and Michael Ansaldi.
Lewis has no previous criminal record. He is a devoted family man who shot Echols because he “was fearful for himself and his daughter,” Siguenza told The Buffalo News.
“If you only looked at the videotape, it looks bad for my client,” Siguenza said. “But if you look at all the circumstances, if you put yourself in my client’s shoes, and if you knew all the things he knew, you’d never convict him. He had known Mr. Echols since he was 9 years old. He knew he was a strong, powerful man who sometimes carried a knife and sometimes could be extremely violent. My client was worried that he might have a knife in his hand. He couldn’t see what was in his hand when he fired his gun.”
Echols was the former husband of Lewis’ mother, authorities said.
Defense attorneys spoke to jurors after both trials and were told that most jurors wanted to acquit Lewis after both trials, Siguenza said.
In Siguenza’s view, the incident was a “horrible family tragedy” and the case should not be prosecuted any further.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys have never been able to reach agreement on any plea deal.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Lewis would face 25 years to life in state prison. Assistant district attorneys Ryan Haggerty and Nathanael Kapperman are handling the third prosecution.
Flynn said he knows there are "strong emotions on both sides" of the case.
“I know we have had two hung juries. I know there are emotions in this case,” Flynn told The News last year after the second trial. “But from my standpoint, the defendant had no justification for what he did."
Last week, Flynn told The News, "I am committed to getting justice for the family of the victim in the matter, and we are aggressively moving forward with the new trial and will try our best to get a guilty verdict."