Barry Covert, a well-known Buffalo, NY-based criminal and First Amendment law attorney, was asked by WGRZ-TV’s Scott Levin for legal analysis of the strategy being pursued by defendant Jeffrey Basil and his attorney, Joel Daniels. Click here for the interview.
Mr. Basil, the former manager of Molly’s Pub in Buffalo, stands accused of the murder of Bill Sager, a local air national guardsman. Mr. Sager died several weeks after Mr. Basil is alleged to have pushed him without provocation and using both hands down the bar’s stairs. He had been in a coma in the trauma intensive care unit at Erie County Medical Center after suffering a devastating brain injury. Mr. Sager was 28 and engaged to be married.
The reporter explained that Mr. Daniels asked Judge Penny Wolfgang to change the highest charge from murder to manslaughter.
Mr. Daniels said, “We didn’t believe that the grand jury evidence was sufficient to establish second degree murder, which requires an intent to kill or a conscious objective to cause death as opposed to injury, so we asked the court to reduce the murder count, which was the first count, to manslaughter.”
Mr. Levin then asked Mr. Covert to clarify what Mr. Daniels is trying to do with his motion to change the charge.
“He asked that the judge dismiss the highest count, which is murder in the second degree,” Mr. Covert explained. “He is asking the judge to dismiss that, which would leave the highest remaining count to be manslaughter in the first degree . . . that the evidence before the grand jury was that he intended to cause serious injury, which resulted in death.”
He continued, “He’s not agreeing that his client is guilty, but he is saying that, at most, the evidence before the grand jury would only support manslaughter in the first degree.”
The charge of murder in the second degree carries a minimum prison sentence of 15 years to life and a maximum of 25 years to life. The manslaughter charge carries a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.
Mr. Covert was then asked his opinion about this move.
“It is difficult for a judge to grant this type of a motion,” he said. “Common sense tells us that us that the individual probably did not intend to kill the victim, but it is very difficult for a judge not to let the jury at the trial make that decision and let Mr. Daniels present that argument to the jury.”
He added, “My suspicion is that Judge Wolfgang will not grant this motion.”
A well-known criminal defense attorney, Mr. Covert is also known for his representation of clients in the areas of constitutional law, including First Amendment, civil rights actions, and federal False Claims Act; defending against allegations of scientific misconduct and fraud, research misconduct and fraud, plagiarism, and fabrication of evidence; and professional licensing defense.