Fatal Lockport shooting case headed to grand jury

Ben Joe/staffLockport City Police Chief Steven Abbott, shown here in this file photo from a press conference last week inside the Niagara County Courthouse, discusses the arrest of two suspects in the shooting of Cheyenne Farewell.

LOCKPORT -- Two teens charged in the murder of a Brockport State College student will see the case against them presented to a Niagara County grand jury.

Those plans unfolded during a preliminary hearing in Niagara County Youth Court on Monday. The hearing was conducted in the Falls by Niagara Falls City Court Judge Diane Vitello.

The teens, ages 16 and 17, are each charged with second-degree murder and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon in the slaying of Cheyenne Farewell, 21, of Medina. Five others, who had been among an estimated 120 people attending a Lockport Halloween party with Farewell, were also wounded when a hail of gunfire erupted through the side garage door of a home on South Niagara Street.

Eight bullet holes penetrated the door. 

During the Youth Court proceedings Monday, a defense attorney for the 16-year-old suspect waived his right to a preliminary hearing to allow his case to proceed directly to the grand jury. 

A public defender, representing the 17-year-old suspect, challenged a Lockport police interrogation of his client that led to a reported confession.

Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek defended the police interrogation.

"Despite the legal arguments made by the defense in court today, we are comfortable that the proper legal safeguards were followed by the Lockport Police Department when interviewing the juveniles involved in this case," Wojtaszek said. "The admissibility of the defendant’s statements will be litigated at a later date."

Vitello ordered both teens to be held in custody pending the outcome of the grand jury presentation. Bail for both suspects was set at $500,000 cash or $1 million bond.

The names of the defendants have been withheld under provisions of New York's Raise the Age Law, which looks to keep most defendants under the age of 18 out of adult courts. 

"We are confident the protocols set forth in the Raise the Age legislation, particularly those involving parental notification, were followed despite the arguments raised by defense counsel and the questions posed to the witnesses in today’s hearing,” Wojtaszek said after the hearing, which Vitello conducted in an open courtroom.

The judge noted the public's interest in open courtrooms.

The teen suspects were taken into custody last Tuesday and charged on Wednesday. 

The other shooting victims range in age from 16 to 21. Two of the victims, like Farewell, were from Medina, two were from Lockport and one was from Corfu.

Investigators have indicated that the shooting may have been triggered by a dispute between two teens who were attending the party and another individual. They say neither Farewell nor the other five victims were linked to that dispute.

Lockport police said officers responded to a report of shots fired, at around 12:20 a.m, Oct. 17, at a South Niagara Street home. When officers arrived at the scene, they said they found six people suffering from gunshot wounds.

Delano Johnson, who lives at the the home, heard the gunfire and went running to investigate. He said he found Farewell crumpled on the floor.

"We got her to the ambulance," Johnson said. "To try to bring her to the hospital, but she died right there."

Lockport Police Chief Steve Abbott said his detectives are still gathering evidence in the homicide case. Wojtaszek has indicated that a grand jury would likely return more charges against the teen suspects.

“We anticipate many additional charges, including charges under a depraved indifference theory of murder and charges for each and every one of the shooting victims," Wojtaszek said a news conference to announce the arrest of the suspects. "This is a tragedy beyond words. Cheyenne was an innocent victim. She deserves justice, her family deserves justice and this community deserves justice.”

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