Schenectady County

Cop tells of finding body

It was an almost perfect spring day Tuesday, April 3, 2007, on Hamilton Hill. The day was sunny and
Omari Lee, who was convicted this morning in the fatal shooting of Xavier McDaniel Jr., enters Schenectady County Court earlier in his trial.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Omari Lee, who was convicted this morning in the fatal shooting of Xavier McDaniel Jr., enters Schenectady County Court earlier in his trial.

It was an almost perfect spring day Tuesday, April 3, 2007, on Hamilton Hill.

The day was sunny and warm. At Jerry Burrell Park, a group of youths casually killed time playing a game of basketball. Less than 30 feet away sat a blue Mazda, its driver door ajar, seemingly empty.

Schenectady Police Officer Christopher Wrubel pulled his cruiser up behind the Mazda and got out to investigate. Wrubel, a patrol officer with nearly 20 years on the force, was responding to a call of gunshots fired. He walked to the Mazda slowly, wondering why the door was open, scanning the area for threats. He saw none. The youths did not try to run, they continued coolly to shoot baskets.

“There was nothing to indicate anything was wrong,” Wrubel said in testimony Wednesday during the second day of the murder trial of Omari Lee, 27, in Schenectady County Court. Lee faces a first-degree murder charge of intentionally killing Xavier McDaniel, 21, as he sat inside the Mazda.

Wrubel soon determined something was indeed wrong. “As I got closer, I noticed a head and an arm in the car. I took out my weapon,” he said.

The figure was that of McDaniel, whose body was wedged between the passenger side door and passenger seat of the car. His left arm was sprawled across the seat’s headrest as it he were reaching into the back seat before his death. There was little blood visible.

Wrubel checked for a pulse and realized McDaniel — who was unidentified at the time — was dead and not a threat. He holstered his weapon and began to secure the scene, noticing two shell casings outside the driver’s side door.

By then other law enforcement officers had arrived, and Wrubel directed them to interview the youths on the basketball court. Paramedics also arrived, and Wrubel joined them in trying to revive McDaniel with CPR and other methods. Their efforts were fruitless; McDaniel had died within minutes of being shot in the heart.

Prosecutor Philip Mueller asked Wrubel whether anyone — the youths playing basketball just feet away, neighbors, bystanders — came over to offer him information as to what happened.

Wrubel chuckled slightly. “No. No one came over,” he said. “Based on my 18 years’ experience, it would have surprised me if someone came over to talk.”

Jurors did not react when Wrubel said this, prepared as they were by Mueller’s opening statement on Tuesday. In it, he said these same youths had come over to the Mazda almost immediately after Lee allegedly shot McDaniel and peered in at his still-twitching body. Rather than call for help on their cellphones, they went back to their game, he said.

Another person who drove by the car after the shooting called police, Mueller said.

Lee sat practically motionless during Wrubel’s testimony, exhibiting little or no emotion.

Defense attorney Mark Sacco said there is no evidence connecting Lee to the crime. Police never recovered the .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun they say killed McDaniel, and a police surveillance video recorded the day of the homicide does not show Lee. It instead shows Allen Blount, whom Mueller labeled an accomplice with Lee in ambushing McDaniel that day.

Blount is scheduled to testify against Lee during the trial, which is expected to last up to four weeks. Acting County Court Judge Polly Hoye is hearing the case.

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