A paroled sex offender, accused of being the driver in an October shooting in Lockport that left a Medina college student dead, may be looking for a plea deal with prosecutors.
The attorney representing Jonathan Frey, 21, of Lockport, who is charged with a single count of first-degree hindering prosecution, told Niagara County Youth Court Judge Diane Vitello on Tuesday that he wants to talk to prosecutors about “what may be available” to his client.
During a virtual hearing, defense attorney Nicholas Narchus told Vitello he needed some time “to explore potential plea options with the district attorney’s office.” First Assistant District Attorney Doreen Hoffmann told Vitello that prosecutors have supplied Narchus with required materials and that she was ready for trial on the case.
All trials in New York courts are currently on pause because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Vitello gave Narchus until March 23 to meet with Hoffmann and report back to the court on the result of those talks.
Frey is accused of driving a pair of teenaged gunmen to and from a South Niagara Street home where the teens are accused of unleashing a volley of gunfire into a side garage door. Cheyenne Farewell, 21, died when she was struck by the hail of bullets.
Five other individuals, who had been among an estimated 120 people attending a Halloween party with Farewell, were also wounded. Pictures from the crime scene showed that eight bullets had ripped through the garage door.
Frey’s connection to the gunmen has not been revealed.
The accused teen gunmen also appeared at the Tuesday afternoon hearing. The teens, ages 16 and 17, who had originally been charged in a criminal complaint with second-degree murder and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, now face a 27-count indictment that includes the previous charges and a host of assault counts.
The 16-year-old faces two counts of second-degree murder, four counts of first-degree assault, five counts of second-degree assault, one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and one count of first-degree reckless endangerment. The 17-year-old faces those same counts and one additional charge of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
The teens appeared via a video link from the Erie County Youth Services Center, a secure detention facility in Buffalo. Reporters were again allowed to observe the proceedings over the objections of the teens’ defense attorneys.
Vitello, a Falls City Court judge, who also presides over the Youth Court, overruled the objections. The judge did, however, order that reporters not release the names of the teenage defendants, consistent with the provisions of New York’s Raise the Age Law, which looks to keep most defendants under the age of 18 out of adult courts.
Vitello also ordered that the names of witnesses, who may appear at hearings, be withheld because of safety concerns.
Prior to the hearing, Vitello released a ruling that found that the Niagara County grand jury that had indicted the teens had reviewed sufficient evidence in the case. Hoffmann told the judge that she was ready to go to trial in the murder case as well.
Defense attorney Rodney Giove told Vitello that he has had trouble meeting with his client at the Erie County facility. He said rules at the facility, limiting him to only one-hour visits and only on weekends, had made it difficult for him to prepare a defense.
“It’s frustrating,” Giove told the judge. “This is a 16-year-old charged with murder.”
Vitello told the lawyer she would help find a solution.
“I understand your frustration,” the judge said. “This has to be solved.”
Attorneys for the 17-year-old defendant joined with Giove in asking for more access to their client as well. The teenagers are being held in lieu of bail for both set at $500,000 cash or $1 million bond.
All the defense attorneys told Vitello they would need to hold Huntley hearings to determine if statements the teens made to police investigators would be admissible at their trial. Defense attorney Mark Grossman, who represents the 17-year-old defendant, also said there may be a need for a hearing on whether the teens should have separate trials.
Investigators have indicated that the shooting may have been triggered by a dispute between two teens who were attending the party and another individual. Police said neither Farewell nor the other five victims were linked to that dispute.