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After changing his mind a few times, defendant in Alexander double homicide admits to murder

By Howard B. Owens
Raul Cruz

One of the two men charged with murder in the double homicide of farm workers in Alexander on March 11 had a hard time deciding whether to accept a plea deal that would have capped his prison sentence at 23-to-life.

The alternative, if convicted at trial, would be a possible sentence of life without parole.

Raul Cruz had multiple conferences over the course of the day with his attorney Fred Rarick but it was a family member sitting in the gallery who persuaded Cruz to take the deal.

"What are you doing?" asked a woman who later identified herself as the defendant's sister-in-law.

A few minutes before that question, Rarick had returned from a private meeting with Cruz and informed District Attorney Kevin Finnell that Cruz had changed his mind and would reject the plea offer.

Then Cruz came in, and in response to the woman's question said he didn't know what to do.

"It's hard," he said. "I don't understand. They're offering a deal on a case that's still under investigation. If it's still under investigation, how can they charge me?"

He was referring to an allegation that while in jail, Cruz paid money to an inmate about to be released to give a "blunt" (a cigar hollowed out and filled with marijuana) laced with fentanyl to a witness.

The potential witness tampering case could, on its own, be worth 25 years in prison.

Finnell had already explained in court that the investigation was paused when he learned Cruz was going to accept a plea offer but that it would be completed and Cruz would be charged if he rejected the plea offer.

"I think you should take it," the woman told Cruz.  "I'm just thinking of you."

Cruz was facing an indictment that includes first-degree murder and two counts of murder in the second-degree, arson, and petit larceny.  Pending charges include witness tampering and two possible counts of introducing prison contraband.  Cruz reportedly had a sharp object, or objects, in jail on one or more occasions.

The offer Cruz eventually accepted was a guilty plea to two counts of murder in the second degree, with a sentencing cap of 23 years to life on each count to run concurrently and a guilty plea intimidating a witness with any sentence on that conviction to run concurrently.  The plea would satisfy all other pending charges.

If the 18-year-old stays out of trouble in prison, he could be a free man in 15 years.

Cruz first appeared in court today just before noon and Judge Melissa Cianfrini thought she would be presiding over a hearing where Cruz would accept the plea offer only to learn that Cruz had yet to indicate to his attorney that he would accept the offer.

Cianfrini called for a recess of more than three hours to give Rarick and Cruz time to meet at the jail and go over the plea offer again.

When they returned to court, Rarick informed Finnell that Cruz was rejecting the deal, and then a smirking Cruz entered the court

When Cianfrini re-entered the courtroom, the hearing resumed, and she asked Cruz if he had made a decision.

Cruz said nothing for several seconds.

"I'm not going to accept it," he told Cianfrini.

After more conversation about sentencing parameters, there was a pause in the hearing, which is when Cruz and the woman had their conversation, with Cianfrini out of the room.

Cruz turned around, facing the front of the courtroom and whispered something to Rarick.  Rarick turned to Finnell and said, "He's going to take it."

Cruz turned to the woman and said, "I let him know I'm going to take it."

"Don't change your mind," she said.

"I think she's giving you wise advice," Rarick told Cruz.

When the hearing resumed, Cianfrini began the detailed recitation of the plea offer and what rights Cruz surrendered as part of the plea offer, including his right to a trial.

When it came to a discussion about Cruz giving up his right to certain appeals, such as challenging evidence that could be used to convict him, Cruz said he didn't understand, so Cianfrini allowed Cruz and Rarick to again discuss the case while she left the room.

From what could be heard of the conversation in the courtroom, it wasn't clear that Cruz -- who had told Cianfrini previously that he only had a ninth-grade education and had not completed his GED -- would not change his mind again but when Cianfrini resumed the hearing, he said he would agree to appeal waiver.

In the end, Cruz admitted intentionally participating in the murders of Elibander "Ivan" Morales and Marcelino Gomez Hernandez at 10216 Alexander Road, Alexander, on March 11.

Prince Wilson, of Albion, is also charged in the double homicide.

Cruz will be sentenced at 1:30 p.m., Dec. 13. 

CORRECTION: The length of the sentence was corrected to 23 years.

Oakfield man sentenced to 23 years for killing his father

By Howard B. Owens
Nicholas Maher

Nicholas Maher is being sent to state prison for 23 years for killing his father Martin Maher in their Oakfield home on Oct. 18.

The picture painted on Nick Maher in Genesee County Court today was of a 37-year-old man who struggled for years with mental health issues and gave into his delusions when he stabbed his 69-year-old father to death.

"Nick believed that his father was responsible for poisoning the air," District Attorney Kevin Finnell said. "He said he grabbed a knife to scare him but his father was flippant and arrogant and denied involvement in poisoning the air.

"Of course he denied it. It's ridiculous. It was a product of his mental health issues that he refused to address, he didn't want to address," Finnell said.

"Nick Maher is a college-educated person," Finnell continued. "He's smart enough to know that he needs to get mental health treatment and that he needs to take his medication, even if it doesn't make him feel real good. But he chose not to do that. So he responded, in his words, by 'losing it on his father,' a man who just denied poisoning the air, and killed him. In so doing, he took away the only person that was left in the world who cared about him."

Nick's siblings, Megan and Matt, spoke to the court and shared how much the death of their father hurt them.

Megan said Martin Maher put Nick first over his own happiness, putting off his own retirement to care for his son. She said Nick refused treatment and accused anybody who tried to help him of trying to harm him. 

"I think you simply made him the bad guy because he was there for you," Megan said. "What if mom hadn't passed a few years earlier? Would she have been caught up in your alternate reality and have been the bad guy, too? What if I spent more time around the house? Would I have been in the crossfire? I don't know. But these things have crossed my mind this year."

Megan said cleaning up her father's house, and going through old family photos was the hardest time of her life.

"I was constantly reminded of what you did," she said. "I no longer felt happy and safe in that house. All of the wonderful memories of our childhood were overshadowed by what you did."

Near the end of her remarks, she said, "You took a dad away from your siblings, and a grandpa away from his grandchildren. "Life has been hard enough after mom passed but not having my dad has been even more difficult than I think you'll ever be able to comprehend."

Matt said he will never forget the day he went to his father's home after not being able to reach him on the phone, worried something terrible had happened, and finding him dead on the floor.

"My dad loved my brother and it broke his heart that his love was not reciprocated, but that there was anger and blame towards him," Matt said.

Finnell told the court that the Sheriff's Office conducted a thorough investigation of the case and there is no doubt in his mind, that the evidence supported a murder conviction but it was also clear from psychological exams that if Nick Maher's case had gone to trial, his extreme emotional disturbance would have to lead the jury toward a manslaughter conviction rather than murder.   That is what lead to a plea deal that allowed Maher to admit to the murder with a possible sentencing range of 20 to 25 years in prison.

But Maher's mental health issues don't excuse him from the choices he made, Finnell argued.  Maher refused treatment and refused to take his prescribed medication.  Those choices ultimately led to Maher taking his father's life.

The chance to plead to manslaughter is the only consideration the defendant should get, Finnell told Judge Michael Mohun. Finnell said Maher should get the full 25 years in prison allowed by statute.

Public Defender Jerry Ader took exception to the suggestion that Maher was completely responsible for his own choices in dealing with his mental illness.

"I sincerely believe that our community, our country, has a difficult time dealing with mental illness, especially when it comes to mental illness in the criminal justice system," Ader said near the beginning of his remarks.

Later he said, "some of the speakers here, the children of Mr. Maher, they use of words, that he chose to do these things, and that he could have done something else. And I'm just not quite sure that's true. And I don't think anyone can know for sure if that's true, it's easy to say because we don't understand mental illness. But in my experience, when someone is placed in a psychiatric hospital, it could take years in order to get a patient, an inmate, to understand, to have the insight as to their illness, why they need help and why they need medication."

Ader said after nearly a year in jail, his client is just starting to take his medication and come to terms with his mental illness.

Ader argued that Mohun should consider something less than the maximum 25-year term on the manslaughter conviction because the Legislature when it wrote the law, allowed for a sentencing range of 5 to 25 years. Clearly, the Legislature understood, Ader argued, that each individual, each case, is different because mental health is involved, therefore, a judge has latitude to weigh all the factors.

In this case, the plea agreement meant that Maher must receive a sentence of at least 20 years but there was no reason, considering the factors of his mental health issues, to sentence him to the maximum of 25 years.

After giving Nick Maher an opportunity to address the court, which he declined, Mohun spoke directly to the family.

"I don't want you to dwell on Oct. 18 of 2021. The day your dad died. What I want you to think of are the days he lived. He almost lived until his 70th birthday which would have been in July of this year. Think of all those things that you had with your dad and that you celebrated together and that he was there to give you guidance and support. And think of the man who put his life on hold during his retirement years to take care of your brother."

He added, "Your brother has admitted, he's acknowledged., he has pled guilty to manslaughter in the first degree. What he has done by this act, you've lost two family members. On Oct. 18, you lost your father and you lost your brother. That is a devastating event which it will resonate through generations of Maher family celebrations of birthdays and holidays. But don't let this crime define the family. Remember your dad as he would want to be remembered, as a good dad, as a dad who stepped up and took care of your sick brother. Your father's devotion to duty was extraordinary."

Mohun said the killing of Martin Maher was without justification, without reason. 

"It was a heinous crime to which an appropriate sentence must be imposed," Mohun said.

The 23 years will be followed by five years of post-release supervision.  

Nick Maher is barred by court order from having any contact with his siblings until Sept. 9, 2053.

One of two defendants accused of killing dairy farm workers arraigned on murder charge

By Howard B. Owens
Raul Cruz

One of two men indicted by a Genesee County Grand Jury of murder in a double homicide in March was arraigned on those counts in Genesee County Court this morning.

The arraignment of Raul Cruz, 18, of Warsaw, went through standard court procedure -- ensuring all evidence that is available (discovery material) has been turned over to the defense, ensuring the prosecution is ready for trial, setting dates for motions, and reviewing the defendant's bail status.

Cruz entered a not-guilty plea for the murders that occurred in Alexander earlier this year.

There will be more evidence in the case coming from the crime lab, District Attorney Kevin Finnell told Judge Melissa Cianfrini Lightcap.  He indicated there is still a substantial amount of evidence in the case for the lab to process, however, upon questioning by Lightcap, Finnell said he has sufficient evidence already to prosecute the case and is ready to proceed to trial.

Before a trial date is set, the defense has the right to file motions in the case challenging evidence and witness statements, and the prosecution is given time to prepare counterarguments before the court holds a hearing on those motions.

Defense motions are due on Oct. 6, with answers due on Oct. 13.  A hearing on motions is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. Oct. 17.

Cruz is being held without bail, but Genesee Justice has yet to conduct a bail scoring worksheet, which is normally part of the bail review process and provides the judge with information on a defendant's flight risk. Defense Attorney Fred Rarick asked that the worksheet be completed before he makes a motion on his client's bail status.  In the interim, Lightcap ordered Cruz to continue to be held in the Genesee County Jail without bail.

Both Prince N.K. Wilson, 23, of Albion, and Cruz are accused of killing Elibander "Ivan" Morales and Marcelino Gomez Hernandez at 10216 Alexander Road, Alexander on March 11.

Morales was 30 and Hernandez, 29.  Both were born in Mexico and had been employed in the U.S. for an unspecified amount of time.

They were indicted last week by a Genesee County Grand Jury on counts of murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, arson in the second degree, and petit larceny.

Cruz and Wilson are accused of killing Morales and Hernandez, of setting the fire, and of stealing cash, a suitcase, a laptop, and other personal property.

Wilson is scheduled to be arraigned on Friday.


Attorneys, court, moving forward against Oakfield murder suspect

By Howard B. Owens
Nicholas Maher

Murder suspect Nicholas Marten Maher, 37. accused of killing his 69-year-old father in his Oakfield home on Oct. 18, appeared in court today before Judge Michael Mohun, as the judge and the attorneys discussed procedures in the case. 

District Attorney Kevin Finnell said he is ready for trial but he understood that Public Defender Jerry Ader was awaiting reports that could have a bearing on how the case might proceed and what motions might be made.

Ader said that was correct and acknowledged receipt of the required discovery (potential evidence in the case) and everything seemed to be in order but the discovery material is still under review.

Mohun set May 20 at 2 p.m. for further proceedings.

Martin D. Maher was found dead in his home at 32 Drake St. after deputies were dispatched to his house for a welfare check at 10:57 a.m. Oct. 18 because family members had been unable to contact Maher.

Nicholas was later located in Erie County.  He is being held without bail.

The types of reports Ader is awaiting were not specified but they could have a bearing on whether there is a trial, as well as whether a plea deal is reached.  At the March 20 hearing, the court and attorneys will agree on how to proceed with the case.

Attica author's newest book 'Candle in the Rain' delves into 1997 murder of Ann Rippel in Bethany

By Press Release

Submitted photo and press release:

Attica author Rob Thompson has released his 17th book, but only his second historical fiction. "Candle in the Rain" is the story of the 1997 Genesee County homicide of Ann Rippel (inset photo, right).

Her body was found in the Little Tonawanda Creek near Brookeville and Creek Roads in Bethany. No arrest has ever been made and Ann’s case has been labeled cold for many years.

“I’ve been working on a book about Ann’s case for a couple of years now,” Thompson said, “I had to be very careful, I was limited in what information I could access, and I remained in touch with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department along the way to make sure I wasn’t jeopardizing an active investigation.

“Above all I wanted to be respectful to Ann and to her family; so historical fiction seemed to be the best way to go. I don’t deviate from known facts of the case, but I do incorporate some fictional elements around those publicly known facts.”

Thompson uses vivid imagery in telling his own personal story and that of Rippel's.

“I found it a good opportunity to share with my readers aspects of our lives they may not know,” Thompson said. "Poets, balladeers, and purveyors of prose have bemoaned at how close their protagonists have been during the layout of damnable syntax. I’ve been personally close to many things in life, so close at times. I’ve been close to winning, close to losing, close to God and awfully close to His rival.” 

“In my opinion, the investigating officers are and have been very close to solving this case, I believe it comes down to just one or two things or even just one long-silent voice stepping forward. I wanted the readers to know Ann was a very real person and not a just a dusty file folder…for example what might she had said to her family if she had been given a chance.

“Perhaps she would have something like this…

“If tomorrow starts without me…if the sun should rise and find your eyes filled with tears for me; I wish so much you wouldn’t cry the way you did today…God looked down and smiled at me. He said, your life on Earth has passed, but here, life starts anew. You have been forgiven and now at last are free.”

Thompson said, “I conclude the book with my providing a behavioral profile on a possible suspect to the family. My background in psychology and literary psychoanalytical criticism aids me during such pursuits. Based on studying the scene, the public information on the crime and after interviewing Ann’s family my detailed profile concludes with the labeling of the possible suspect as a sociopath.

Because of COVID-19, there may be no public signings, the book is available on Amazon (paperback, $9.29) and if anyone knows anything about Rippel’s case, or have heard about what may have happened during that April in 1997 please call the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department.

'A life sentence of eternal sadness' for Paladino family; 20-years-to-life for the man who killed him

By Howard B. Owens


Michael Paladino, who would have turned 44 years old today had he not been murdered by Quinten J. Edmonds on June 1, 2019, was remembered today in County Court as a loving son, brother, and father, but his aunts and mother, who each asked that Judge Charles Zambito give the lifelong criminal the maximum prison term available.

And so Zambito did, 20-years-to-life.

There was no expression of sympathy from the judge, even in response to an apology from Edmonds -- who didn't just react in the heat of the moment to Paladino's attempt to protect two women Edmonds was attacking: he took the time and effort to go to the apartment of an acquaintance on Ross Street and retrieve a knife.

“For whatever reason, you thought you had a score to settle with him," Zambito said. "You say you didn’t intend to kill him but when you stab somebody that many times with a knife, I don’t see how it can be reasonably viewed that you didn’t know he wouldn’t die from those injuries.”

Edmonds had told Zambito minutes before, "I take full responsibility for what happened and I apologize to the victim’s friends and family and to my family. This isn’t who I was raised to be and I didn’t intend to take anybody’s life that night. I was drinking and I took the situation too far and I’m sincerely sorry."

Family members said they will never recover from the death of Paladino.

"The loss of Michael has hurt our family beyond words," said Carol DiFrancisco, an aunt. "There are no more birthday parties, backyard parties, holidays, or other gatherings that will be the same. Our family is forever broken."

At the close of her statement, she said, "Quinten Edmonds has given Michael’s loving family a life sentence of eternal sadness.”

His aunt Nancy Elmore said, "He was a big man, not just from a physical standpoint but from the kindness of heart. His actions on June 1, 2019, will tell you that. Rendering aid to people he didn’t even know without regard to his own safety shows he was a kind, gentle, caring man."

The sister of Paladino's mother, Barbara Fay, read a statement on her behalf.

She said, "The pain will never go away for any of us. I don’t know how I could survive this if not for my loving family you see here. It helped me survive and pushed me forward."

She called Edmonds a brutal criminal who has no regard for human life.

"He should never walk free again to repeat his actions."

The family vowed to show up at his first parole hearing in about 20 years to oppose his potential release.

Throughout today's hearing, except when he was speaking, Edmonds sat motionless in his chair at the defense table and stared straight ahead. He never looked at any of the other speakers.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman also asked that Edmonds be shown no leniency in sentencing. He questioned Edmonds' claims that he was too intoxicated to know what he was doing and that he didn't intend to kill Paladino.

“He said he got the knife to scare Mike," Friedman said. "He didn’t need to scare Michael Paladino. He was the aggressor in this case and when he got to the corner he could have left. He did not and he got the knife because he intended to kill Michael Paladino."

Edmonds claims he was intoxicated, Friedman explained to Zambito, but he had the presence of mind to know to go to a residence he had been to before. He knew the residence well enough to know where to find a knife in the kitchen. Later, when Edmonds recounted events in his interview with a probation officer, he recalled details that are consistent with what witnesses said and the police investigation showed.  

“There is no indication he was so intoxicated that he was incapable of planning a murder," Friedman said.

Friedman said Zambito's decision was all about how long he wanted to protect society from a person who is committing such a horrible crime.

Defense Attorney Fred Rarick did not request for his client anything other than the sentencing recommendation agreed to at the time of Edmonds' guilty plea in August. He says, however, while acknowledging that his statement would be subject to misinterpretation, that perhaps something good could come from the events of June 1: That rather than first jump into a situation where people are fighting and yelling, people should call 9-1-1 first. If Paladino had done that, Rarick said, perhaps this whole outcome could have been avoided.

That drew a bit of a rebuke from Zambito when he spoke.

“I trust Mr. Rarick is not trying to blame Michael Paladino because that would be an injustice.”

Zambito acknowledged that Edmonds had a difficult childhood. He didn't have a father. His mother struggled to raise him but, Zambito said, Edmonds had a "loving grandmother who tried to raise him right."

Even so, Edmonds' criminal history became when he was 12 years old and he then spent the next 20 years either confined or awaiting confinement.

“You had many opportunities to deal with those issues, issues you had to know you had, and you never did," Zambito said. "That one is on you. It’s one thing to say you come from a difficult background, you were brought up in difficult circumstances. But life isn’t fair and at some point you had to recognize you have a problem. You don’t deserve to live in the community. You’re too much of a risk, too much of a danger to the rest of us and to people like Michael Paladino.”

NOTE: At the end of the proceedings, DA Lawrence Friedman informed the court that during the pretrial sentencing investigation, a records check in Monroe County by the probation department found that the correct spelling of the defendant's first name is "Quinten." He moved to have all court documents corrected. Contrary to previous reports, we've used the spelling "Quinten" in this story.

Former parolee from Rochester indicted today for second-degree murder in June death of Ross Street man

By Billie Owens

The Genesee County Grand Jury today indicated a former Rochester parolee for second-degree murder stemming from the June 1 death of Good Samaritan Michael R. Paladino, who was fatally stabbed after coming to the aid of a woman allegedly being beaten on Ross Street by Quinton J. Edmonds (photo above).

The crime Edmonds is accused of is a Class A-1 felony. The indictment alleges that Edmonds intentionally caused Paladino's death.

Paladino, 43, was stabbed outside of his apartment after trying to come to the aid of the woman who was under attack.

Batavia Police Chief Shawn Heubusch said after the incident that their investigation indicated that Edmonds was in a vehicle in the City when an argument began between Edmonds and at least one of the two women in the vehicle with him. The vehicle stopped on Ross Street and the argument continued outside the vehicle.

Emergency dispatchers received a call of the disturbance at 5/7 Ross St. at 12:44 a.m.

Paladino suffered multiple stab and cut wounds to his upper torso and head and collapsed in the entryway of his apartment. He was transported by Mercy EMS to UMMC. He was pronounced dead at 5:05 a.m. by Coroner Don Coleman.

The women in the vehicle fled the scene right away and a police officer saw a vehicle driving erratically and stopped it in the parking lot just east of St. Joseph School.

Edmonds was well known to Batavia police, according to previous statements by Heubusch. 

State records indicate Edmonds was convicted in 2015 in Monroe County of criminal possession of a weapon, 2nd, and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. His parole ended in April 2018.

For previous coverage about the Ross Street crime, click here.

NYS Police in Batavia continue to investigate 1977 murder of Erie County woman

By Billie Owens

Photo and information from the NYS Police, Troop A, Batavia:

Cold Case Tuesday: New York State Police in Batavia continue to investigate the 1977 murder of an Erie County woman.

On Nov. 25th, 1977, the partially decomposed body of Jessica Rose Lane, age 66, was found by two deer hunters in a wooded area off of Alley Road in the Town of Darien.

The victim was found fully clothed with fractured ribs, a fractured left elbow and a fractured skull, likely caused by stabbing.

Lane was last seen on Nov. 11, 1977 at Williamstown Apartments in Cheektowaga.

The exact location of the crime has yet to be determined. However, the residents below the victim’s apartment claimed to have heard two “thumps” between 4 and 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 12th, 1977.

Lane, who lived alone, was known to keep to herself and rarely had visitors. Suspects have been developed, but no arrests have been made.

Anyone with information regarding this investigation is asked to contact the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Batavia by calling 716-344-6200. Please refer to SJS # 3029541.

Investigators believe murder of Ray Morgan was premeditated

By Howard B. Owens


      Richard Hanes

A former Orleans County resident whom investigators believe planned the murder of Raymond Morgan before beating him to death in his apartment at 111 Liberty St., Batavia, on July 24, was charged in Genesee County Court today with murder in the second degree.

Richard D. Hanes, 36, entered a not guilty plea before a courtroom packed with Morgan's family and friends as well as several police officers and detectives from Batavia PD. He was shackled and dressed in the green jumpsuit of the Department of Corrections and accompanied by a pair of corrections officers.

"Right now we don't have a motive," said Det. Kevin Czora after Hanes was arraigned on the single count of second-degree murder. "All we know is that it was an exceptionally violent attack that happened in an extremely short period of time. I believe it was premeditated from the evidence that we've collected, and what we know, but as of right now we do not have a motive."

Hanes has been in state custody since July 26, two days after the murder, on an alleged parole violation. He is being held at the Attica Correctional Facility.

He was convicted in Orleans County in 2003 of burglary, 3rd, attempted robbery, 2nd, and grand larceny, 4th. His parole on those charges expires Dec. 7.

According to a police spokesman, Hanes was living at 5 Thorpe St., Batavia, a rooming house for clients of GCASA, at the time of the alleged murder.

The evidence against Hanes, according to Czora and District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, is wide-ranging.

"There were witnesses in the area who, when this happened, identified him," Friedman said. "That's how it got started. So we have that. There are various items of physical evidence that were found and connected to him. We've got surveillance video from various locations that follow his path after the crime. There are also various items of scientific evidence."

Hanes is scheduled to remain in state custody until early December. Judge Charles Zambito ordered him held without bail but Fred Rarick, representing Hanes, said he reserved his right to make a bail application at a later date. Hanes will next appear in County Court on Jan. 9 for a hearing on any motions that have been filed.

Though Morgan had his own trouble with the law, he was a 47-year-old Batavia native with a large, tight-knit family locally, including five grandchildren, and a large network of close friends. Victor Thomas said they're all relieved to see the case reach this stage after months of waiting for justice to be served.

"This is the first step," Thomas said. "At least we start to see some justice; at least we got a name; at least we have a charge; at least we've got a prosecutor and somebody who is going to fight for us."

While police identified a suspect early in the investigation and gathered several items of physical evidence, formal charges were delayed until DNA could be analyzed.

Friedman said, because of ethical guidelines, he couldn't discuss that aspect of the case but he said the important factor was just making sure all of the evidence was ready for a successful prosecution.

"I can say that the delay was a matter of completing the investigation," Friedman said. "Fortunately, we had the luxury of time knowing that he was being held on a parole detainer and we knew what our timeline was as far as when we needed to have a grand jury presentation to make sure that we were at this point before he got released by parole."

He said he understood the desire of family and friends to see an arrest made quickly.

"Obviously, I've known all along that there are a lot of people who are very interested in this case, family members, people who are anxious to see something happen and we're maybe at times troubled by the fact that that wasn't happening quicker," Friedman said. "But my position has always been in this case and others is, we're going to do it right rather than doing it quickly. We're not going to jump the gun before we've got everything in order."

Todd Crossett, Batavia PD's assistant chief, said patrol officers and detectives put in more than 800 hours on the case so far (and the investigation isn't done).

"This is a culmination of many hours of work from patrol officers doing an excellent work at the initial crime scene and then going to the detectives," Crossett said. "Anything that came into the department, they were on it. Long, long hours, especially when it initially came in, long hours of chasing everything down. I think because of that hard work in the beginning that's why we ultimately got to where we are."

There has been speculation, Czora acknowledged, that there may have been other people involved in the murder of Morgan. He said every lead along those lines has been pursued and so far there is no evidence of any other people being involved.

The investigation doesn't end with the arraignment today, Czora said.

"There are countless numbers of pieces of evidence that we've obtained and processed and continue to process even still to this day," Czora said. "Our investigation continues even after this arraignment. It's just been an extensive amount of work that needed to be accomplished."

Top photo: Friends and family wearing T-shirts in tribute to Ray Morgan.

Ray Morgan's daughter says family looking for answers and justice in murder case

By Howard B. Owens


The family of Ray Morgan misses him every day, said daughter Raelee Morgan in an interview earlier this week, which is making it so hard to wait for justice in his murder case.

Batavia PD has a person of interest and that person is being held in the Genesee County Jail on an unrelated charge, but until the State Police lab reports back on the results of DNA tests from the crime scene it would be premature to try and charge that person with murder, said Chief Shawn Heubusch.

Raelee said members of the family don't feel the case is moving fast enough nor is much information being shared with the family.

"I'm not sure what they're looking for but we're doing everything we can to prepare a case to present to a grand jury," Heubusch said. "The worst thing that can happen is we present a case and the grand jury returns a no bill, then we're done. We can't present the case again."

Heubusch said the State Police lab is cooperative and has expedited the case but it still takes time to get results.

He also said investigator's sisters communicate regularly with Raelee's sister, Faith, but the police cannot release all of the information they have because there is information, if made public, that could compromise the investigation.

The 47-year-old Morgan, who besides two daughters, had seven grandchildren, was reportedly badly beaten in the attack.

Heubusch sounded a little exasperated at one point to even be talking about the case publicly.

"When you go on social media or you go to the media and start talking, it hurts the case," Heubusch said. "You could put something out there that makes it harder to get a conviction."

Raelee said the family just wants justice and they don't want the public to remember him as a person who had a criminal record but as a man who was a kind, loving family man, and friend to many people. She said everything he did, even the things that got him into trouble, was to help other people.

"He was the type of guy that no matter who you are what you've done in the past, he will give you the shirt off his back," Raelee said. "If he had 10 dollars in his pocket he would give it to you if you needed it. He was an amazing guy. He really was."

She's also upset that after Morgan's murder the night of July 24 at 111 Liberty St., Batavia, that once police left his apartment, the room was left open. Morgan's belongings disappeared, she said, and a neighbor posted gruesome, bloody pictures on Facebook.

Raelee blames the police.

"I would like to find a lawyer for the wrongdoings of the Batavia Police Department handling his crime scene because, like I said, his crime scene was not taped off; his crime scene was completely opened up," Raelee said. "Myself and my sister only received three bags of bloody clothes -- all the rest of his belongings were thrown away."

The day after the murder, Heubusch told The Batavian that once investigators finish processing a crime scene, the property is turned over to the property owner and the owner from that point is responsible for securing the scene. As a matter of Constitutional law, the police cannot maintain control of private property once it has finished processing the crime scene.

The Batavian's news partner, 13WHAM contributed to this story.

Ray Ray was always there for you, say members of slain man's family at vigil

By Howard B. Owens


Those who made it a habit to read arrest reports locally have come across the name Raymond Lee Morgan a few times over the years but that public profile paints an unfair picture of the man, his friends and family said during a vigil in his honor yesterday outside 111 Liberty St., where he was murdered on Tuesday.

The 47-year-old had a big, loving heart, said his sister, Natalie Urbanski (top photo).

"He had seven grandkids," Urbanski said. "He had sisters. He had family. He’s always there, no matter what. You needed something he would be there to help you and it seems like no one wants to hear that."

The vigil was, as Victor Thomas put it, a celebration of Ray Morgan's life, but Thomas and others also made pleas for anybody who knows anything to help the police solve the murder case, and for Batavia to come together.

"He would want us to come together and spread the same love that he spread," Thomas said.

With arms wide open he said, "I want to spread love today because that is what Ray did and that is who he was. He didn’t deserve to go out like this. Nobody does. So at the end of the day, if anybody knows anything they need to say something because my man didn’t deserve this."

Then he looked to the sky and addressed Morgan, "I know you're up there and I know you're looking down on this. Something’s got to give, bra. This stuff in Batavia has got to stop. This isn’t what it was. We’ve got to get back to what it was."

Natalie Urbanski said Morgan was "one of a kind."

"He was a sweet loving man who did not need to go out the way he did," she said. 

She also made a plea for anybody with information to come forward and help the police solve Morgan's murder.

"His daughters, his grandkids, his loved ones, his aunt, his mother, need some type of closure," Urbanski said. "Let’s not let this be a cold case. Let this be solved immediately."

And she included a plea for Batavia come together.

"Batavia you need to come back as one, as we were before," she said. "All of this violence and nonsense, senseless killings is not who were are. We are not the city. We are Batavia."

Dionne Thomas also recalled Morgan's kind, loving ways.

"I remember the Christmas he told the kids he was going to kidnap Santa Claus," Thomas said. "The kids were really scared that Uncle Ray Ray was going to kidnap Santa Claus. He said if he didn’t leave no presents on Hall Street there wasn’t going to be no Christmas. The kids woke up on Christmas, Santa visited Hall Street. Uncle Ray Ray made sure Santa was on Hall Street. That’s who he was for us all."

People know he had problems in his past, Thomas said, but his murder was just senseless.

"No matter what was done in the past doesn’t justify what was done to him," Thomas said. "No one deserves that, especially not Ray. We all know that."

Funeral arrangments have been made for Morgan. Calling hours will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at H.E. Turner, 403 E. Main St., Batavia, with a funeral service at 1 p.m.  (Full Obituary)




Victor Thomas


Matt Green, pouring a 40 in honor of Ray Morgan.



Nicole Griffen



Victor Thomas with Jeff Hull and Lamar Randall.


Ray Morgan with his seven grandchildren (photo used with permission of his daughters).

Person of interest in custody in Raymond Morgan murder investigation

By Howard B. Owens

A person of interest in the murder of Raymond Lee Morgan is in custody on an unrelated matter, Batavia PD announced this morning. 

The police are not releasing the name of the person or a description of the person because of "the very active nature of the investigation."

The police are not releasing further information about the case at this time, the department said in a statement. 

Morgan was found badly beaten in his room at 111 Liberty St., Batavia, at 11:15 p.m., Tuesday after police received a report of a disturbance. Mercy medics responded but Morgan, 47, who had two daughters and seven grandchildren, died at the scene.

According to family members, a person was seen fleeing through a second-story window and police officers, including a K-9, conducted a search of the area that night.

The day after the murder, two men living at 111 Liberty were taken into custody on alleged parole violations.

Funeral arrangments have been made for Morgan. Calling hours will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at H.E. Turner, 403 E. Main St., Batavia, with a funeral service at 1 p.m.  (Full Obituary)


BREAKING: Man charged with murder in stabbing death on Central Avenue

By Howard B. Owens


Nathanial D. Wilson Jr., 30, with a last known address on Chestnut Street, Batavia, has been charged with murder in the second degree in the stabbing death last night of Terry J. Toote, 41, of West Main Street, Batavia.

Toote suffered a knife wound to the center of his chest. Wilson suffered a gunshot wound to his leg.

Police are looking for the suspected shooter. There is a person of interest police would like to interview.

Det. Eric Hill said he couldn't comment on whether any weapons were recovered.

After Toote was stabbed, other people in the area came to his aid. People were yelling "call 9-1-1, call 9-1-1" and a citizen started performing CPR and continued CPR until Mercy EMS arrived on scene.

Police have not said what precipitated the confrontation last night but don't believe it is connected to an incident a couple of nights earlier where a group of people were jumped by a number of other people, at least two with baseball bats and one person with a gun.

Toote has a criminal record. He was recently released from state prison on a conviction for attempted sale of a controlled substance. He was charged in Orleans County. That was a second felony offense for Toote, according to Orleans Hub. He was arrested in Batavia in 2014 on a harassment charge.

We haven't been able to confirm yet whether Wilson had any prior arrests.

The incident started some time before 11:30 p.m., Thursday. A witness who lives on Pringle Avenue said she heard people walking down Pringle talking loudly. One said, "I apologized. I apologized." When the group reached Pringle and Central, she said it sounded like the argument escalated, then she heard three gunshots. She said when she looked down the street she saw an SUV leaving the scene quickly.

Another witness said there was a car parked on Highland and the driver yelled, "They shot my boy. They shot my boy." And then that vehicle left.

Toote was pronounced dead at UMMC by County Coroner Donald Coleman.

While Wilson was being treated at UMMC, investigators developed information that indicated Wilson was allegedly responsible for stabbing Toote. Once he was released from medical care, he was taken into custody and then arraigned this morning in City Court on the murder charge.

Shortly after midnight, there was a disturbance at the hospital. Family and friends of Wilson and Toote were involved, according to police. The hospital went on lockdown as a precaution. There were no weapons displayed or threatened. The parties were separated. No charges have been filed.

Central Avenue has been a hotspot of disturbances recently so just about 24 hours before the stabbing and shooting, police activated a recently installed camera, which became critical in gathering evidence for this case.

"Due to these issues, the Department installed a video surveillance camera in the area and had the street lighting enhanced," Batavia PD said in a statement. "The street surveillance camera was instrumental in this investigation. The Department has also received several other videos showing the incident from witnesses who will remain anonymous. These, too, were instrumental in aiding in this investigation."

The case is under active investigation and Hill said police have been busy following up on leads.

From the press release:

The Department would like to thank the New York State Police, Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, the Genesee County Local Drug Task Force, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (ENCON), City of Batavia Fire Department, Mercy Medics and Genesee County District’s Attorney’s Office.

Anyone with information in reference to the case may contact Detective Thad Mart at 585-345-6372 or the Batavia Police Department at 585-345-6350, the confidential tip line at 585-345-6370 or online at

More information will be released at the conclusion of the investigation.

CORRECTION: We initially pubished the suspect's name incorrectly. The correct last name is Wilson. The story has been corrected.

Family of murder victim located

By Howard B. Owens


At a press conference this morning (photo), officials with the Sheriff's Office asked for the public's help in locating the family of murder victim Sherri Colleen Butler and this evening investigators announced next of kin of been located and notified of Butler's death.

The 58-year-old woman was found dead Monday morning in her room at the Sunset Motel in Batavia, the victim of blunt force trauma to her neck.

The suspect remains at large.

Investigators are still seeking the public's helping in solving the murder case. Anybody with any information that might be helpful are encouraged to call (585) 343-5000.

Previously: Investigators trying to locate family of murder victim Sherri Colleen Butler

Investigators trying to locate family of murder victim Sherri Colleen Butler

By Howard B. Owens

Investigators have been unable to locate the family of Sherri Colleen Butler, the woman found dead two mornings ago in a room at the Sunset Motel on West Main Street Road, Batavia, so they released her name today in the hope somebody will see it and contact them with more information about her.

As far as investigators know, Butler has been living at the Sunset Motel since the January 2014 when deputies first had contact with her.

She has a record of prior law enforcement contacts in Rochester.

Not much else is known about here, said Undersheriff Gregory Walker during a press conference this morning.

Butler is described as a white female, age 59.

She was last seen alive Friday or Saturday.

Emergency dispatch received a call at 11:57 a.m. Monday of an unresponsive woman in a room at the motel. One of the motel's owners, Kevin Bezon, went to check on her because she hadn't been seen in a couple of days.

Sgt. Ron Meides was the first officer on scene and he immediately determined Butler was dead and the circumstances of her death seemed suspicious.

A medical examiner has ruled her death a homicide. The cause of death was "blunt-force trauma to the carotid artery."

Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster said Butler had no other serious injuries. He would not say whether there was evidence of a related crime, such as robbery or sexual assault. 

There was no drug paraphernalia in the room.

There was no sign of forced entry. 

Brewster said no information will be released at this time on whether there is a suspect or suspects.

“It’s hard to assume whether it was somebody she knew or not,” Walker said.

Like all the residents of the motel, Butler paid her rent on a weekly basis. Co-owner Lynn Bezon said Butler always paid her rent on time and was a pleasant resident.

"She was a sweet lady," Bezon said.

Butler's prior police contact did include an arrest, according to available information. She was arrested in May 2014 for harassment, 2nd, and trespass. She was arrested in July 2014 on a warrant for criminal contempt.

Homicides remain rare in Genesee County. The most recent cases include the last one on Dec. 1, 2015, when Kyle Johnson killed Norman Ball on Selden Road in Le Roy. In December 2014, Baby Chandler died of head trauma and Jeffrey L. Deats was charged with manslaughter. A few days later, Deats took his own life while in custody. In 2009, Scott Doll killed Joseph Benaquist in Pembroke.

The unsolved murders in the county include Bill Fickel, Annie Lee, Eddie Freson and Kisha Sullivan.

Asked how he thought this case might be a hard case to solve, Brewster said, "I never go into one thinking I’m not going to win."

Solving the Butler case though may hinge, Brewster said, on the cooperation of people who aren't normally comfortable talking with the police.

"Because she lived in a motel unit and paid week-to-week, she would have been in contact with people that are similarly fixed and sometimes these people don’t really communicate with the police," Brewster said. "We’re hoping that when they realize this woman has been murdered that they may decide step outside themselves and help the police for once. They could be a big help to us if they decide to come forward."

Sheriff's Office investigating murder at Sunset Motel

By Howard B. Owens


A woman was found dead, apparently murdered, at 11:57 a.m. yesterday at the Sunset Model, 4056 W. Main Street Road, Batavia.

A medical examiner has determined the cause of death was "sharp force trauma to the carotid artery."

Yesterday morning a deputy responded to a report of an unresponsive woman in a room at the motel. Responding deputies determined she was dead and Coroner Jeffrey McIntyre responded to confirm her death.

The case has been ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. 

The woman has been identified by authorities but her name has not yet been released pending notification of family.

Charlene Mess pled not guilty in the murder of Douglas Mess

By Julia Ferrini



Charlene Mess pled not guilty today in Wyoming County Court to the seven count indictment handed down by the Grand Jury. Mess is accused of murdering her husband Douglas Mess, April 19, at their farm in Attica. Douglas Mess was found dead April 20, following a missing persons report filed earlier that day. The 52-year-old farmer and Baskin Livestock employee was found stabbed, shot in the back of the head and buried under a pile of manure on the farm the couple owned and worked.

Charlene Mess is charged with murder in the second degree, a Class A felony; criminal use of a firearm in the first degree, a Class B felony; assault in the first degree, a Class B felony; assault in the second degree, a Class D felony; tampering with physical evidence, a Class E felony; offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, a Class E felony; and making a punishable false written statement, a Class A misdemeanor.

“There are seven counts in the indictment, with the most serious charge of murder in the second degree,” said Wyoming County District Attorney Donald O’Geen. “The allegations contained that the murder was performed by Mrs. Mess with a small caliber, .22, weapon. The evidence revealed... The allegations are that Mr. Mess was shot in the back of the head. Mrs. Mess pled not guilty, which is typical at this state of the proceeding.”

Wyoming County Court Judge Michael Mohan set bail at $1 million cash or $2 million bond. It was stated that Charlene Mess sold all her livestock at a significant profit and therefore has the resources for the bail set.

“It is our understanding that those resources are tied up,” said Public Defense Council Greg Kilburn. “Mrs. Mess is a lifelong resident of Wyoming County, a graduate of Letchworth High School, is 48 years old, and has no criminal record. We submit bail to be set at $100,000.”

“Because of the possibility of the risk of flight,” Mohan said. “I will set bail at $1 million cash and $2 million bond.”

“With this type of case, the person, when they are facing life in prison, they are considered a very high flight risk,” O’Geen said. “Bail is about flight risk. I wanted to make sure that Mrs. Mess is where she needs to be until trial, which is hopefully in jail. However, she does have the opportunity to post bail and that would secure her attendance at future proceedings.”

It is alleged in the indictment that prior to shooting the victim in the back of the head with a .22 rifle, Charlene Mess struck Douglas Mess in the head and body with a pitch fork. It is then alleged that she tampered with physical evidence by attempted to hide the body by burying Douglas Mess in a pile of manure in the back of the family farm.

At this time, the DA’s Office does not know what happened prior to the murder.

“There is no indication that there was a domestic incident prior to this incident (the murder),” O’Geen said. “We do not know what happened prior to the events that took place.

“I want to state for the record that these are just allegations,” O’Geen said. “Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty of what they are accused of. We will find everything out in court.”

Both the DA’s Office and defense counsel will be in court at 9 a.m. on June 11 to argue a motion regarding the taking of a DNA sample from the defendant. Other motions made may be ruled on when the case resumes at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 6.

See related: Murder of Douglas Mess a big loss for Baskin Livestock 

See related: Attica woman charged with murder in missing man's death 

See related: Missing man found dead in Attica  

Doll enters not guilty plea

By Brian Hillabush

 Scott Doll was arraigned in Genesee County Court Tuesday and entered a plea of not guilty.

Doll is the Corfu man that is charged with the murder of his friend and business parter, Joseph Benequist, on Feb. 16. 

Doll's attorneys asked judge Robert Noonan to allow him to post bail because he is a custodial parent to his 17-year old daughter, has a clean record and can afford the bail. 

"He's going to make every court appearance," Attorney Paul Cambria says in Daily News reporter Paul Mrozek's story. Doll, if released pending trial, will wear an ankle bracelet that can track his whereabouts with a global positioning system, his attorney said.

Doll is facing life in prison if convicted of the killing and Noonan has scheduled a bail application hearing for Wednesday, March 18.

Scott Doll indicted by grand jury on a charge of second-degree murder

By Philip Anselmo

Scott F. Doll has been indicted by a grand jury today on a count of murder in the second-degree, Genesee County District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said. Doll is accused of killing his business associate and acquaintance, Joseph A. Benaquist, who was found beaten to death in the driveway of his Pembroke home early Tuesday morning.

An arraignment has been scheduled for Wednesday, March 4, at 2:15 p.m. in county court.

Friedman explained by phone that second-degree murder is "what you usually hear about" in such homicide cases. "That is the intentional killing of another person," he said. That is to be distinguished from first-degree murder, which would involve an intentional killing of a police officer or a judge, for example.

No weapon has been found yet, said Friedman. "But that's not necessary, just like a body is not necessary for a murder conviction. It is certainly something that will be looked for, but we can proceed without it."

It's still too early to say whether or not the case will go to trial. "It's the very beginning of the proceeding," said Friedman.

Doll was found walking along North Lake Road in Pembroke late Monday night "stained with fresh blood." A subsequent investigation led officers to the home of Benaquist, where they discovered the body. Doll was charged with second-degree murder the following afternoon.

Please see our initial post for the full details.

Investigators search for the murder weapon in the Pembroke slaying

By Philip Anselmo

Officers were out at the scene today searching for the murder weapon in the death of Joseph Benaquist, Genesee County Sheriff Gary Maha said. Scott Doll is currently in custody on the charge of second-degree murder for allegedly beating Benaquist to death two nights ago.

Maha informed us that investigators were "searching the area" around Benaquist's home at 683 Knapp Road in Pembroke to "see if (the weapon) had been discarded by Mr. Doll." No weapon has yet been found. Investigators also have yet to determine a motive for the alleged homicide. Benaquist and Doll both served as corrections officers, and they were in an auto sales business together. Maha stressed, however, that a motive "does not need to be established."

The case against Doll is being prepared for a grand jury hearing tomorrow. District Attorney Lawrence Friedman will present the case for indictment. If the jury decides to indict, Doll will then be arraigned in county court.

We haven't yet connected with Friedman for more details on the grand jury appointment tomorrow.

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