Charges dropped against Buffalo man in shooting that killed 4 outside restaurant

By Carolyn Thompson, AP
Sunday, August 15, 2010

Charges dropped in Buffalo shooting that killed 4

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A prosecutor said the evidence didn’t back up murder charges against a parolee who had been accused of opening fire outside a downtown restaurant, killing four people and wounding four others, and had the counts dismissed Sunday.

Keith Johnson, 25, of Buffalo, was still being held in jail on a parole violation. He could be rearrested if authorities change their minds, but Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III cited photo evidence and witness statements in seeking dismissal.

“I’m not going to prosecute someone for a quadruple homicide unless I’m sure he did it,” Sedita told City Court Judge Patrick Carney, with Johnson sitting handcuffed next to him, “and I’m not sure he did it.”

Investigators removed several security cameras from the around the restaurant Saturday and viewed the images into the evening. Sedita said authorities have clear video of the shooting.

“We can see the race, gender, height, build, the clothing of the perpetrator. You can see many of the perpetrator’s actions. We have him shooting on video,” Sedita said outside the courtroom.

The City Grill’s managers, reacting to an altercation, had decided to close the restaurant early Saturday morning and told patrons to leave. The victims were exiting at about 2:30 a.m. when a man began shooting, police said. Four people — including a Texas man who was celebrating his first wedding anniversary in his hometown — were killed and four others wounded.

Later in the day, Johnson was arrested by a Buffalo Police SWAT team and charged with four counts of second-degree murder.

Even after the charges were dropped Sunday, police Commissioner Daniel Derenda stood by Johnson’s arrest.

People who had been at the party identified Johnson by name, one witness picked him out of a photo lineup, Johnson gave inconsistent statements and a search of his home yielded clothing with blood on it, Derenda said. The blood hasn’t yet been tested, police said.

“We acted on what we had. If we had the same information today and were given the same scenario we would have had the same result,” Derenda said. “We acted quickly to rectify a situation where we were wrong and we turned it around as quickly as possible.”

Johnson, who was released on parole in late July after serving two years for assault, was assigned an attorney after the charges were dismissed. Investigators said he could be a witness in the case.

Sedita said he believed Johnson was being held in jail because being at a bar violated the conditions of his release. A parole official could not be reached by phone Sunday to confirm that.

Johnson’s mother told The Buffalo News that her son was at the restaurant at the invitation of his friend, Danyell Mackin, who was among those who died.

“My son could have been killed. He was ducking and dodging bullets like everybody else out there,” Jackie Green said.

Police were pursuing several new leads Sunday, Derenda said, and authorities again asked that witnesses come forward. Derenda has estimated there were over 100 people at the scene when police arrived.

Some of the victims were part of a group that was attending a party at the restaurant in advance of a couple’s anniversary celebration scheduled for later Saturday, authorities said.

Mackin, 30, and his wife, Tanisha, married in Texas a year ago and had returned to celebrate with Buffalo-area friends and family, authorities said. Danyell Mackin was killed. Tanisha Mackin was unhurt.

The Mackins, who grew up in the same neighborhood, had been friends since they were 13, according to a website created to commemorate their marriage and provide details about the celebration.

The couple, known as “Dee” and “Tee,” have a 6-year-old son, Danyell Jr., and a 7-month-old daughter, Destinee, who was scheduled to be christened on Sunday, the website said. The family had moved from Buffalo to Austin, Texas, in 2006, and the Mackins worked for a local bank.

At a Buffalo church service where the Mackins’ daughter, Destinee, was to have been baptized Sunday, the Rev. George Woodruff called the shooting “just a senseless killing” and prayed for the victims — and gunman.

“I know some people are not comfortable with that,” Woodruff said at Durham Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church. “I pray you arrest his spirit as only you can.”

Police identified the other three slain victims as Willie McCaa III, 26; Shawnita McNeil, 27; and Tiffany Wilhite, 32.

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