Trial begins in upstate NY shooting that killed 4

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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 7:27 PM
Trial begins in upstate NY shooting that killed 4

One of eight people shot outside a restaurant described stepping past bodies and holding his dying best friend in his arms after a spasm of gunfire that killed four people and said Friday that he knew without a doubt that a man he knew as "Murder" was the gunman.

On the first day of testimony in the murder trial of former street gang member Riccardo McGray, nicknamed Murder, James Robbs Jr. walked a jury through dark and grainy surveillance video showing the chaos outside the City Grill when the shooting began Aug. 14.

Robbs points to himself as he falls, shatters a Champagne bottle he was carrying and runs among a crowd of people who'd been at parties inside the restaurant minutes earlier.

Robbs testified that he didn't see McCray shoot him in the pelvis, but he saw him a moment earlier with a gun after a dispute led managers to shut down the restaurant and the crowd spilled onto Main Street.

"What the (heck) is you doing, Murder?" Robbs said he asked McCray before any shots were fired.

"He looked at me, turned his head. He was gazing like he was looking for someone, and he ran into the crowd," Robbs said.

McCray, 24, has acknowledged that he was at the bar but says he wasn't the shooter.

Onlookers in the courtroom cried as the video played and again as Robbs, wiping his eyes with shackled hands, described holding a dying Willie McCaa until police arrived.

"It seemed like forever," he said.

Robbs was arrested earlier this week to ensure his presence in court after he ignored the prosecution's calls and a subpoena to testify. He said he didn't want to be labeled a snitch.

"It's different in my world and your world," he told defense attorney Joseph Terranova, who sought to chip away at his credibility during cross-examination.

A 28-year-old unemployed father of two, Robbs did 3 1/2 years in prison for assault after shooting a school bus aide in the ankle while aiming for someone else in 2000. He testified that he initially told detectives he didn't know who shot him because he didn't want to get involved. He said he had a change of heart after talking to his and McCaa's girlfriends and named the gunman on Aug. 24.

In his opening statement, prosecutor James Bargnesi described a scene of terror caught on a 911 call and video as McCray ran back and forth across a street, firing 10 shots in 17 seconds. At one point, he returned to a wounded, cowering victim to put another bullet in his back, Bargnesi said.

"One man in complete contempt for any laws of civilized society maniacally runs from one side of Main Street to the other, killing all four of our victims at nearly point blank range, sending the injured to the hospital and the mentally scarred running for their lives," he said.

McCray faces life in prison if convicted. He's charged with four counts of murder, four counts of attempted murder and weapons possession.

Bargnesi told jurors they'll see video of the already wounded 30-year-old Danyell Mackin of Austin, Texas, struggling to rise from the street, then covering up as he sees the gunman returning to shoot him again in the back. Mackin, who later died, had returned to his hometown of Buffalo and was at the bar to celebrate his anniversary with his wife, Tanisha, and friends.

A second party, where admission was charged and $100 bottles of Champagne flowed, was the restaurant's main event that evening, authorities said.

Terranova told jurors the case wouldn't be as simple as the prosecutor made it seem and asked them to consider the potential bias of each prosecution witness and what they stand to gain.

He attacked the credibility of some, including a second shooting victim who identified McCray as the gunman only last week after demanding favorable treatment on unrelated gun charges, and four jailhouse "snitches" who he said are the "lowest of the low."

Terranova also tried to cast doubt on eyewitness accounts, pointing out that police initially arrested someone else based on what a witness said, only to release him after 15 hours.

"Terror and chaos were reigning that night," he said. "How reliable can eyewitness testimony be under those circumstances?"

Killed along with Mackin and McCaa, 26, were Tiffany Wilhite, 32, and Shawntia McNeil, 27. Four others were wounded, including Robbs.

Loved ones of those killed were the first witnesses called Friday, each describing the early morning call or knock on the door that told them about the shooting.

"Your girl, it ain't looking good, the white sheet," Wilhite's longtime boyfriend, Robert Green, recalled a friend telling him over the phone. He described driving "probably at 100 mph" to the restaurant, calling Wilhite's mother and father along the way and arriving to see crime scene tape and police officers.

"It was taped off and they had a sheet on her," he said. "I just started crying."