Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III looked out over his courtroom on Thursday morning and saw a sea of yellow.
Yellow was Cheyenne Farewell's favorite color. And her parents, family, friends, even a Niagara County prosecutor, wore yellow face masks, yellow shirts, yellow blouses, as much yellow as it seemed they could find, before asking Murphy to impose stiff sentences on two teenagers and an adult charged and convicted in the murder of Farewell and the wounding of five others at a 2020 Halloween party in Lockport.
Murphy told the spectators he understood that “the worst mass shooting” he’d ever seen had “profoundly affected the community.”
“You can hear the pain from all the people who spoke,” Murphy said.
A total of seven people stepped up to the courtroom podium, including three of the wounded victims, one of their parents and Farewell’s mom and dad.
Keara Pitts told Murphy about what she called “the worst day of my life.”
“I can see myself, lying naked on a stranger’s floor, as the police took pictures of the wounds to my arms and hips,” Pitts said.
She told the judge the shooting has left her fearful to be out in public and that if New York allowed for a death penalty, that would be her preferred sentence for the two teens.
“They were kids who made the adult decision to play God,” Pitts said. “I ask you to show them no mercy.”
The teens, ages 16 and 17 at the time of the shooting and now 17 and 18, had faced multiple murder, manslaughter, weapons possession, assault and reckless endangerment charges in the slaying of Farewell, 21, of Medina, and wounding of five other party-goers. They all had been among an estimated 120 people attending a Halloween party at a South Niagara Street residence.
About 12:20 a.m. Oct. 17, a hail of gunfire erupted through a side garage door of the residence. Eight bullet holes penetrated the door and riddled Farewell and the others.
Aiden Owczarczak, 17, was hit by six of the eight bullets. His mother, Katy, a nurse, had been helping to deliver a baby when she got the call that her son had been shot.
She said Aiden told her, “If I don’t make it I love you,” and she told Murphy that she was “bargaining with God” as she rode in an ambulance to the hospital with her son, who had been standing next to Farewell when the shots rang out.
“They (the two accused teens) deserve the maximum,” Owczarczak told Murphy. “Please take away their freedom.”
The now 18-year-old defendant, identified by District Attorney Brian Seaman as Shawn Johnson, admitted that he was “the shooter” who fired the eight rounds. In total, Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree assault, one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, and one count of first-degree reckless endangerment.
The now 17-year-old defendant, who said that he had a gun but did not fire it, pleaded guilty to a charge of aiding and abetting first-degree manslaughter.
Speaking to Murphy, Farewell’s father said he tried to imagine what his daughter would have said about sentencing her killers. Jeffrey Farewell testified he believed Cheyenne would have wanted a second chance for the teen who did not fire his gun.
“I hope you take this opportunity to better yourself and come out a better man than you were,” Farewell told the youth. “Cheyenne, without a doubt would have said the same thing.”
The 17-year-old, looking straight at Farewell, nodded his head.
Rochelle Horner, Farewell’s mother, focused most of her comments on the fate of Johnson, who pulled the trigger.
“You had no regard for human life. How dark is your soul?” Horner said. “I hope you rot in jail for the rest of your life.”
Victims and prosecutors insisted that Johnson had shown no remorse for his actions. During most of the comments to the judge, Johnson just stared down at the defense table.
His defense attorney disagreed, insisting his client was remorseful but had “trouble expressing his feelings.”
Johnson told Murphy, “I made a mistake. It was a terrible mistake. I was young and not in the right state of mind. I pray and I pray, not for myself, but for Cheyenne and anyone who was shot. I deserve the time I’ll be doing. What I did was horrible.”
Murphy sentenced the teen to plenty of time behind bars, laying out a series of concurrent sentences that added up to 20 years to life in prison.
Over the objections of prosecutors, Murphy sentenced the 17-year-old defendant as a youthful offender. Citing Jeffrey Farewell’s suggestion that the teen could come out of prison and lead a better life, he gave the teen 1-1/3 to 4 years behind bars.
Besides Farewell, the other shooting victims ranged in age from 16 to 21. Two of the victims, like Farewell, were from Medina, two were from Lockport and one was from Corfu.
Prosecutors said none of the victims knew the shooter or his accomplice.
First Assistant District Attorney Doreen Hoffmann said it was her belief that “the evidence shows that (the 17-year-old) did not fire his weapon." She said the shooting was triggered by a dispute that Johnson had with “other young people in the city of Lockport.”
Neither Farewell nor the other five victims were linked to that dispute.
A paroled sex offender, Jonathan S. Frey, 22, who drove the two teens to the South Niagara Street residence, pleaded guilty in July to a charge of second-degree hindering prosecution. He was also sentenced Thursday, as a second felony offender, to 2 to 4 years in prison.