Three Buffalo teens who tried to attend a 16-year-old girl’s birthday party at the North Buffalo Community Center in March each ended up getting shot twice that night. Seventeen-year-old Deron Allen never made it home again.
Now, 19-year-old Josue Bermudez faces up to 75 years to life in prison after he was convicted Wednesday on murder, attempted murder and weapons charges for the March 8 triple-shooting on St. Lawrence Avenue. State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia found Bermudez not guilty on two attempted assault charges following a bench trial in Erie County Court.
Some crying from the gallery was audible when the judge read the verdict.
Bermudez, Allen and the two 16-year-old victims knew each other, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said, and they were tangentially involved in rival groups of young people. Flynn stopped short of using the word “gangs,” saying he didn’t want to disparage any of the victims.
At trial, prosecutors did not specify a motive for the shootings, but they told the judge in closing arguments Allen had previously disrespected Bermudez’s gang. Authorities believe Allen was the intended target of the shooting.
Police were able to track down the vehicle involved in the shooting through surveillance video from the community center, Flynn said. Once they found the car, the driver and a back seat passenger told investigators Bermudez was the shooter, Flynn said.
In the end, the two 16-year-old victims and the 17-year-olds who were in the car testified for the prosecution. Flynn called it “very unusual” in cases like this to have such willingness on the part of witnesses.
Bermudez, who goes by the nickname “Swizzle,” also was recorded on a phone call from the Erie County Holding Center directing another person to put threatening messages against the four witnesses on social media, saying they “shouldn’t be rats,” the district attorney said.
“I give all four of these young men a tremendous amount of credit and a tremendous amount of guts for doing the right thing and coming in here and testifying against the defendant,” he said.
In addition to the witnesses from the scene, another witness testified at trial that Bermudez admitted to the shooting during a jailhouse confession. Prosecutors also presented evidence at the trial of data from Bermudez’s cellphone, which they said showed a call was made from Bermudez’s phone from near the community center about 10 minutes before the shooting.
The three teens were shot as they walked away from the community center at about 9:45 p.m., having been denied entry to the party by a security guard because they were not on the invite list.
Allen was shot in the abdomen and leg, with the bullets that inflicted the fatal injuries to his organs entering his body from the front, according to prosecutors. One of the surviving victims was shot in the buttocks and the arm, the other in the chest and abdomen. Each victim was shot twice, with at least seven shots fired, in all. Police recovered seven casings on the street that had been fired from a pistol.
All three victims managed to retreat into a nearby backyard after they were shot. Allen and one of the other victims each called 911.
Bermudez wore an orange jail jumpsuit and was shackled in court for the verdict Wednesday.
Defense attorney Frank M. Bogulski said Bermudez has continued to maintain his innocence and that he would appeal the verdict.
“We’re confident that we will be successful on appeal," he said. "We feel there were a lot of legal errors in this case.”
Bogulski said his client initially agreed to a bench trial, rather than a jury trial, and was not allowed to go back and change that decision. Flynn said the change was requested the morning the trial was to start Nov. 1.
Bermudez was arrested March 28 and has been incarcerated since that time.
Flynn, who said he is concerned for the safety of the witnesses who testified for the prosecution, issued a warning to those considering any retribution against any of them.
“If any of these four are touched, I’m coming after you,” he said.
Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 29.