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Prosecutor and defense attorney's views of Isaac Abrams diverge at sentencing

By Howard B. Owens
isaac abrams smokeshop
Isaac Abrams outside his new smoke shop on Martin Road on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation in September 2022.
Photo by Howard Owens.

The two views of Isaac D. Abrams, 23, expressed by attorneys in Genesee County Court on Thursday, couldn't be more different.

For Assistant District Attorney Robert Zickl, Abrams is a young man given many breaks in his run of criminal activity since he was a teen who has gone from making threats to actual violence. He belongs in prison.

To Michael Dwan, a Buffalo-based attorney hired by the Abrams family, the young Tonawanda Indian Reservation resident is an entrepreneur, a leader with a promise of potential to make a positive impact on his community who has made unfortunate decisions in his desire to help the people he cares about. Another prison could destroy any hope of a productive future for Abrams.

On Thursday, Judge Thomas Williams (filling for Judge Melissa Lightcap Cianfrini, who recused herself because of a possible conflict of interest, though that conflict was not disclosed) gave no verbal explanation for his sentence other than to say it was a "very difficult" decision. 

He sent Abrams to prison.  On a conviction, via guilty plea for burglary, he sent Abrams to prison for two years. On his robbery conviction, also via a guilty plea, he sent Abrams to prison for one to three years. The sentences are to be served concurrently.

Criminal Past
The chain of events, at least as documented in arrest reports that led to the new prison terms, began in August 2017 when Abrams threatened to shoot State troopers and county deputies on the reservation and then, the next month threatened to seriously injure or kill another person while driving a vehicle in the area of Tim Hortons in Batavia.

Abrams entered guilty pleas to making a terrorist threat and reckless endangerment in the first degree.

Judge Charles Zambito sent him to prison.

"I went through horrible experiences," Abrams told The Batavian in September 2022 about his time in prison. "I have scars on my eyebrows now that are permanent. I have stab wounds on my back and my shoulders. I went from prison to prison. It was a horrible, horrible experience."

In July 2019, Abrams was arrested again, accused of threatening a person with a baseball bat. The Batavian doesn't have a record of the disposition of that case.

In Sept. 2022, Abrams was in front of Cianfrini to be sentenced on a burglary charge. After much consideration, Cianfrini spared Abrams a prison term and gave him a chance to get help through the Mental Health Court.

That break allowed Abrams to return to his entrepreneurial dreams and his new smoke shop.

Abrams was grateful for the break.

"She honestly changed my life around," Abrams told The Batavian at the time. "I thank her for helping me. She did a lot.  Honestly, I wouldn't be here in these shoes.  I wouldn't be free today," he said. "I wouldn't be thinking clearly. I would have done none of that. I would have nothing.  I'd probably still be that broken little shit."

Second Chances, New Challenges
In that interview, Abrams talked about how there were people around him who wanted him to fail and who didn't want to see him lead a straight life.  

"This would  be the bad crowd," he said, "like the alcoholics, the drunks, the ones who like to stay out all night."

The night after the interview, two people tried to set his small shop on fire. About two weeks later, Brandi L. Reuben and Garrett S. Porter were arrested and charged with arson. Reuben's case is pending in County Court. Porter's case status is not available.

But that arson, Abrams said, was an example of a lesson learned. Rather than try to take matters into his own hands, he called the police and let them handle the investigation and eventual arrest.

According to Dwan's description of the two latest arrests, Abrams didn't call authorities. He did try to take matters into his own hands. 

Dwan describes the burglary charge as Abrams trying to protect his mother, entering the residence of her boyfriend, catching him in the act of hitting his brother, and then attacking the boyfriend. That description is very similar to the case Abrams was sentenced on by Cianfrini in 2022.

In the robbery case, Abrams was asked to go along with some friends to visit a smokeshop where a person there owed one of them some money.  Abrams said he thought he could help smooth things out by being the voice of reason.  Another, who has never been identified by police and never arrested, is the one who actually carried out all of the acts that led to robbery charges, according to Dwan.

"We're uncertain who was involved, and everyone involved is unwilling to name him," Dwan said. "My client is the only one facing any consequences over what happened in that store, and I believe he was minimally involved."

But Abrams was there as a participant, and although Abrams denies doing exactly what the arresting officer says he did, his mere participation, Dwan indicated, would lead to a jury convicting Abrams of a robbery, hence the guilty plea.

Dwan said Abrams could be a young man with a promising future. He has a stable relationship with a girlfriend, and they have a newborn child together. His mother was in court to support him. 

"There's a very good chance he's going to do very well in this world," Dwan said. "There is a good chance that by the time he's 40, we'll all look at him with respect.  If he's sent to prison, his future may be damaged in ways that will make it harder for him to succeed.  He's going to state prison as a Native American. As we all know, prison is segmented by race, and as a Native American, he will be alone.  He's a big guy, so he may be alright, but nobody will hang with him.  He was stabbed the last time he was there."

Abrams sobbed while addressing Williams, expressing remorse for his poor decisions. 

He said it was not his intent to commit crimes.

"I tried to help people and I should really have just said, 'no," Abrams said. "I feel bad. I feel really bad about the robbery. If I could take it all back I would."

He said he would take his punishment, whatever was coming, that he should never have been at the dispensary, that he should have called the cops, and he was scared about going back to prison.

"I apologize to everyone for being here and making myself look like a fool," Abrams said. 

Zickl argued for prison because, to him, it seemed like the young man's criminal activity was escalating, and that Abrams has a history of minimizing his own culpability.  He argued that Abrams took an active role in the dispensary robbery.

"Mr. Abrams has demonstrated he neither appreciates nor can he take advantage of the positive considerations and benefits he's been given along the way," Zickl said. "His behavior becomes more aggressive and worrying and violent."

For The Batavian's previous coverage of Abrams, click here.

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