COVID-19 closure of courts is about to unleash flood of cases

Niagara County District Attorney Brian D. Seaman is surrounded by what he says is a couple years worth of court cases yet to go to trial in this March photo.

The last time Brian Seaman stood in front of a jury box, it was fully packed with prospective jurors and no one was wearing a mask over their mouth and nose.

But lingering pandemic restrictions notwithstanding, the Niagara County DA said he felt right at home in State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr.'s courtroom on Monday, picking a jury to try accused killers William McEnnis and William Coleman for the murder of popular South End convenience store owner Ahmad “Poppy” Alsaid.

"It was good to be back in the courtroom," Seaman said at the end of the first day of jury selection in the case. 

Prosecutors and defense lawyers had managed to seat just three jurors after a day of questioning, but Seaman said he felt that the process had gone pretty smoothly. 

"It took a few minutes, but then I felt like I slid back into the role," he said. 

It's the first criminal case and first jury trial that Seaman has handled since he left the District Attorneys' Office, as an assistant DA toward the end of 2013, only to return in January to the top job.

"We've got an 18-month backlog of cases, we're coming off the most violent period of crime in Niagara Falls that anyone can remember, we have more homicide indictments pending," Seaman said. "It's all hands on deck and that includes me."

Individuals who were fully vaccinated were allowed to forego wearing masks, though members of the jury pool were socially distanced in the courtroom. None of the lawyers were masked.

"That helped with people understanding what we were saying," Seaman said. 

Alsaid's family has been waiting for the start of jury selection in the trial to arrive. It's been more than two and a half years since "Poppy" was gunned down in his Niagara Street convenience store.

The trial is expected to take four weeks to complete, because in addition to Alsaid's murder, Coleman and McEnnis are also being tried on charges that stem from two other violent robberies.

McEnnis, 36, of Keystone Avenue in Buffalo, and Coleman, 31, of Niagara Falls, are are each facing two counts of second-degree murder, three counts of first-degree robbery and two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon in the slaying of Alsaid on Nov. 21, 2018.

The two men, were each on parole at the time of Alsaid’s murder, after serving 10 years in prison on charges related to a violent robbery in Buffalo. Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges and have been held without bail while awaiting trial.

Coleman and McEnnis are also accused of holding up a 7-Eleven on Buffalo Avenue in the Falls at gunpoint not long after the murder of Alsaid.

And the two parolees have also been charged in connection with the robbery of a Falls man on Ninth Street, 11 days before the Bridgeway Market homicide. In that case, prosecutors say, McEnnis and Coleman stole the man’s wallet and then shot him in the hip.

Police and prosecutors have released few details about the robbery-homicide. They have charged that McEnnis and Coleman entered Alsaid’s store and emptied the register before shooting the popular neighborhood merchant.

Alsaid was rushed to the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, where he died from his wounds.

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