BY APRIL AMADON
BUFFALO — The man accused in the September killing of a 22-year-old Town of Lockport man took a guilty plea Monday morning, just as jury selection was beginning for his murder trial.
Thomas Montgomery, 48, of East Grand Boulevard, Cheektowaga, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, admitting he shot co-worker Brian Barrett, as Barrett sat in the driver’s seat of his pickup in the parking lot of the Dynabrade Corporation on Sheridan Drive in Clarence.
In State Supreme Court on Monday morning, Montgomery told Justice Penny Wolfgang that he intentionally shot Barrett through the window of the pickup, causing his death.
The plea carries a 20-year minimum sentence. Wolfgang said he faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 29.
Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark said Assistant District Attorney Frank Sedita discussed the plea with the family before agreeing to it.
In this case, the plea spared the family from having to go through a difficult trial, Clark said.
“In situations like this, you deal very closely with the family,” he said “When an arrangement can be reached where you have a finality of a plea ... I think the ends of justice are best served.”
Had Montgomery been found guilty at trial, he faced 15 to 25 years in prison, Clark said.
“The 20-year definitive sentence is right in the middle of that range,” he said. “I think it satisfied everyone’s needs.”
Montgomery rejected the same plea July 20, but may have changed his mind after a key piece of evidence surfaced.
Clark said investigators found a peach pit at the crime scene, not far from the body.
Though Montgomery refused to give a DNA sample to investigators, he asked for a can of Mountain Dew during an interview with them. After he drank the soda, he left the can behind, giving investigators a saliva sample to work from.
The sample matched the DNA found on the peach pit, Clark said.
“In all likelihood the climax of the (case) would have been the peach pit,” he said.
Montgomery’s attorney, John Molloy, was not accepting calls about the case Monday, his secretary said.
The murder was motivated by an Internet love triangle involving Montgomery, Barrett and a West Virginia woman. The woman, in her mid-40s, had been passing herself off as an 18-year-old to both men, using her daughter’s photos and information.
Montgomery was also passing himself off as a teenager, telling the woman he was an 18-year-old Marine about to be sent to Iraq. Believing his story, the woman sent him gifts through the mail, including custom-made dog tags and a pair of undergarments.
Former Assistant District Attorney Ken Case, who handled the case before Sedita took over last month, said Montgomery’s wife intercepted one of the packages and sent the woman a family portrait of Montgomery with his two daughters.
Still pretending to be 18, the woman contacted Barrett, who was on Montgomery’s online friends list, to verify what she learned from Montgomery’s wife. The men were co-workers at Dynabrade and were reportedly good friends.
Barrett was a 2002 graduate of Starpoint High School and was working at Dynabrade part-time as he studied to be an industrial arts teacher at Buffalo State College. Unlike Montgomery and the woman, Barrett was apparently truthful about his identity, and his conversations with the woman were romantic in nature, Erie County Sheriff Thomas Howard has said.
For both men, the woman was “at the center of their attention, almost their obsessions,” Clark said, but he added she will not face charges for her part in the case.
“Her actions are not criminal, at least not in New York state,” he said.
Clark said the woman was prepared to testify at the trial. Though prosecutors had thousands of pages of transcripts of conversations between the three people, there were certain communications between Montgomery and the woman that had not been preserved.
Clark said while the guilty plea was the best outcome, the trial would have been an interesting one.
“It would have been a fun trial,” he said. “It’s amazing. We deal in facts and reality. Here you have a cyberspace love triangle. It all exists in cyberspace. The only thing that was real was the murder. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Contact reporter April Amadon at 439-9222, ext. 6251.
SENTENCING: Thomas Montgomery, 47, faces a minimum of 20 years in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 29. If convicted of second-degree murder, he could have drawn up to 25 years to life in prison.
COURTS: Thomas Montgomery pleads to first-degree manslaughter of Pendleton man, faces 20 years in prison
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