Convicted Highland Avenue shooter may lose conviction on new drug charge

Sept. 4—Joachim Sylvester appeared in Niagara County court on Aug. 1 expecting to be re-sentenced and released from any additional prison time following a plea deal in his second trial for a daring April 2014 afternoon shooting at Highland Ave.

But instead of setting Niagara County Circuit Court Judge John Ottaviano free, Sylvester walked away in handcuffs. He was not re-sentenced, he was arrested on a new grand jury indictment charging him with second-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance.

The sudden reversal of fortune left Sylvester, 45, who has been described by law enforcement sources as a known drug dealer and street gang member, stunned and facing a possible return to prison in connection with the Highland Avenue shooting and another long imprisonment behind bars. if convicted on the drug charge.

In October 2014, a Niagara County jury of eight women and four men deliberated for about three hours before finding Sylvester guilty of attempted murder and weapons charges in a brazen midday shooting on downtown Highland Avenue on April 17 2014. .

The key piece of evidence in the case was video, captured by security cameras at the front of a store, showing a man, identified by police and prosecutors as Sylvester, firing a gun at another man.

The video showed the victim arriving in front of the store and chatting with several people, including someone in a black SUV parked in front of the business. As the victim stood in the street, the video showed a silver SUV pull up, with the driver of that vehicle pointing a gun out the window.

The victim, who was in the direct line of fire from the gun, is then seen in the video running away.

A split second later, the video shows bystanders scattering in every direction as the driver of the silver SUV exits his vehicle. The gunman then chases after the victim, rapidly firing at him.

The victim is then seen diving into another SUV that tries to speed off, but instead speeds down Highland Avenue, hitting another black SUV parked in front of the convenience store head-on.

The gunman, identified as Sylvester, then returned to the silver SUV and drove away from the scene.

After his conviction, now-retired Niagara County District Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III denied Sylvester’s request to overturn the jury’s verdict and sentenced him to 25 years behind bars for the attempted murder conviction and an additional 15 years for the weapons possession charge. These sentences were to run concurrently.

Sylvester served six and a half years of his sentence before the New York State Supreme Court’s Fourth Appellate Division ruled that Murphy had erred in allowing certain evidence at his trial. A five-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit in November 2020 unanimously reversed Sylvester’s conviction and ordered a new trial.

Sylvester posted $5,000 bail in early 2021 and was released from custody pending a retrial in his case. While he was initially placed on an ankle monitor, that restriction was lifted over the strong objections of prosecutors after the case was transferred to Ottaviano after Murphy retired.

Before his scheduled June retrial date, Sylvester agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors. In exchange for pleading guilty to a charge of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, prosecutors dropped the charge of attempted murder.

Ottaviano agreed to sentence Sylvester to 4 years behind bars and 4 years of post-release supervision in exchange for the plea. Having already served more than 6 years in prison, Sylvester would have effectively finished his time behind bars and been fully released from custody.

Except for the new grand jury indictment.

Prosecutors allege that while Sylvester was out on bail and off the ankle monitor, he was involved in selling drugs in the Falls.

After his arrest at the courthouse, he was ordered held without bail. Ottaviano has scheduled a hearing in October on a request by the prosecution to drop the proposed sentence in exchange for a plea deal.

Sylvester is due back in Niagara County court this month for pretrial proceedings in his drug case.

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