By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — Their victim called one of them a "coward."
And three young Falls men who pleaded guilty to triggering a wild South End shootout are all heading to state prison as a result. Jacob Taggart and Paul Buck will spend seven years behind bars, while Marlyn Rubin will do five years, for their roles in an attack on a Falls teenager.
The trio were sentenced Thursday afternoon by Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III in a series of proceedings that saw lawyers for two of the men blame the third for the shooting that has left Anthony McDougald with a bullet lodged in his chest, next to his heart.
Police and prosecutors contended that an argument over a "young lady" between McDougald and Rubin triggered the violence. McDougald sat in the courtroom, resting his chin on his hand, as the sentencing of Taggart took place.
But midway through the sentencing of Buck, First Assistant District Attorney Doreen Hoffmann interrupted and told Murphy that McDougald wanted to address the court.
"What I wanted to say is Marlyn, where you at, I know he in here," McDouglad said as he looked around the packed spectator seating in Murphy's courtroom. "Marlyn you'll forever be a coward to me. You know what you got your boys into."
McDougald said he had expected to just fight with Rubin over their disagreement and had to keep his friends and family from seeking revenge for the shooting.
"I stopped my family from coming to get you all," he said. "The sentences, hey, they fair. This could have gone a whole different way. And that's just the way it is."
Taggart pleaded guilty to a single count of attempted second-degree gang assault, while Buck and Rubin each pleaded guilty to a single count of second-degree assault in the case. All three had faced maximum seven-year prison sentences.
They were accused of spraying bullets at the corner of 12th and Niagara streets during a confrontation with a group of young men and teens, including McDougald, who were standing on the corner there in April.
Witnesses told detectives a dark-colored car, with three men inside, rolled up on a group of young men who were gathered on the street corner. The suspects in the car then reportedly tried to start a fight with the men who were on the corner.
As the yelling between the men in the car and the men on the corner escalated, two of the suspects in the car brandished handguns. As the men on the corner began to run away, the armed suspects began firing at them.
McDougald, 18 at the time, was shot in the left arm near his bicep. The bullet then went through the arm and entered his chest.
It remains lodged near his heart. Doctors have said it would be life-threatening to try to remove it.
Rubin was arrested the day after the shooting. At his sentencing, his defense lawyer, Philip Dabney, said Rubin never expected gunfire to erupt when he confronted McDougald.
"The gunfire came from behind (Rubin). He could have been hit," Dabney said.
Rubin apologized to his mother and the victim.
"I want to apologize to Anthony McDougald," Rubin said. "We was just supposed to fight. I'm sorry you got shot."
Dabney asked Murphy to sentence his client to probation, because his participation in the shooting was "minor." Murphy told Dabney he didn't believe Rubin's involvement was "minor."
In handing down a five year sentence, the judge said he took into consideration that Rubin had no prior criminal record and "he did not have a weapon" at the shooting scene.
Buck, who was taken into custody a few days after the shooting, admitted when he took his plea that he had been "one of the shooters." But his defense attorney, Dominic Saraceno, told Murphy that Buck was not "a violent person."
"Seven years (in prison) should be reserved for the worst offenders, he is not one of the worst," Saraceno said.
Buck told the judge, "I pled guilty because I felt guilty for what I did."
Murphy, in sentencing Buck to seven years in prison, rejected Saraceno's claim that his client wasn't violent.
"This is certainly a violent, senseless act," the judge said, "that could have resulted in a homicide."
Taggart was arrested a couple of weeks following the shooting, at a motel in Amherst after a brief stand-off with police there. While prosecutors steadfastly insisted that Taggart was also a "shooter" on the day of the incident, his lawyer disputed that claim.
"I disagree with Ms. Hoffmann that Jake was the shooter," defense attorney Frank LoTempio said. "(The victim) described a Hispanic male as the man who did the shooting. There is no way that is Jake Taggart. I don't think Mr. Taggart, in any way, shape or form, is the shooter. I think he was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Speaking in the courtroom, Taggart said, "I would like the victim and the victim's family to know I'm truly sorry."
Murphy told Taggart he was getting the maximum seven year sentence because of his past history of a felony criminal conviction.
"I don't know if you shot a weapon, but I think you pulled a weapon," Murphy said.