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Teen’s manslaughter conviction stands in brutal murder

By: Denise M. Champagne//October 6, 2015

Teen’s manslaughter conviction stands in brutal murder

By: Denise M. Champagne//October 6, 2015//

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Even though a teenage gang member did not inflict the fatal stab wounds to a 16-year-old boy, his participation in the murder was enough to support his conviction of first-degree manslaughter.

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department on Friday affirmed the 2013 conviction of Ezeiekile Nafi, then 17, in the July 2012 killing of Darren Brown, who had been stabbed 54 times, his throat slit and his body later set on fire in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence.

The panel rejected several of Nafi’s claims, including his contention the judge should have instructed the jury to consider he was under duress and had no choice but to participate, having been threatened by the gang leader.

The matter was prosecuted on appeal by Erie County Assistant District Attorney David A. Heraty, who argued Sept. 16 that Erie County Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia properly denied the duress defense, that Nafi placed himself in the situation that led to Brown’s death and that Sanders’ threat to kill Nafi came after the Brown murder.

The Appellate Division panel agreed, noting post-crime threats are irrelevant as a matter of law, People v. Staffieri, 251 AD2d 998. The panel also found there was no testimony from any witness about what higher-ranking gang members would do to lower-ranking gang members if they disobeyed, People v. Nafi (2015 NY Slip Op 07132).

Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that such testimony had been presented, the panel still rejected the contention, finding the duress defense would not be available because Nafi, by voluntarily joining a gang, intentionally or recklessly placed himself in a situation in which he would probably be subjected to duress.

The district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Nafi was represented on appeal by attorney Barbara J. Davies, of the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo Inc., who declined to comment other than to say she would definitely seek leave to the state Court of Appeals.

According to court documents, Nafi and Demetrius Huff were charged with second-degree murder in Brown’s death. A jury convicted Huff of the charge, but another jury found Nafi guilty of the lesser included offense of first-degree manslaughter.

Nafi claimed the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, which he said did not show he intended to seriously hurt Brown or that he helped Huff and another man who inflicted the fatal wounds. Davies had identified the other man as Antoine Sanders, whom she said was the gang leader who slit Brown’s throat.

The Appellate Division panel noted that contention was not preserved, but looked at it anyway, concluding that although the evidence showed Nafi did not inflict the fatal wounds, he stabbed Brown multiple times, which was enough to show he intended to hurt Brown.

The panel consisted of Presiding Justice Henry J. Scudder and Justices Nancy E. Smith, Edward D. Carni, Stephen K. Lindley and Brian F. DeJoseph.

They also rejected Nafi’s contention that because the jury acquitted him of intentional murder, it had decided he was not an accessory and thus liable only for his own conduct and could not be guilty of manslaughter for the actions of others.

“Accessorial liability requires only that defendant, acting with the mental culpability required for the commission of the crime, intentionally aid another in the conduct constituting the offense,” the panel wrote, citing People v. Chapman, 30 AD3d 1000. “The fact that the jury acquitted defendant of intentional murder establishes only that, when defendant aided those whose acts resulted in the victim’s death, defendant did not do so with the intent to cause death.”

In addition, the panel found Judge Buscaglia did not abuse his discretion in denying youthful offender status for Nafi or that the sentence was unduly harsh, “given the particularly heinous nature of the crime perpetrated on the 16-year-old victim.”

Nafi, now 20, was sentenced to 25 years in state prison. He is housed at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Westchester County.

Huff, also 20, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He is housed at the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Washington County. He was 17 at the time of Brown’s murder.

While Sanders was not charged in connection with the Brown murder, he is serving a 19-year sentence for conviction of five counts of first-degree robbery and one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon in connection with five robberies committed in a 24-hour period in the summer of 2014.

In a March press release, Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III noted Sanders, self-proscribed leader of the “Rollin 60’s Crypts” gang, and five others, recruited by Sanders, participated in the robberies as part of a gang initiation ritual.

Sedita futher noted it was suspected Sanders directed Nafi and Huff to fatally stab Brown and set his body on fire on railroad tracks in North Buffalo as part of a gang initiation ritual. Neither Nafi, nor Huff, agreed to testify against Sanders for fear of reprisal from him or other gang members.

Sanders is housed at the Elmira Correctional Facility in Chemung County.

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