The man accused of fatally shooting Wayne Best Jr. in December 2014 appeared in Schenectady County Court Friday afternoon and pleaded not guilty.
Troy Saunders, 31, of Schenectady, faces a 15-count indictment, the top count being first-degree murder.
Saunders is accused of killing Best early on Dec. 9, 2014, in front of Best’s Parkwood Boulevard apartment. If convicted, Saunders faces up to life in prison without parole.
Saunders is currently serving more than four years in state prison in an Albany County drug case. He was out on bail in the drug case when Best was killed.
Saunders is the third person charged in Best’s killing. Two other men, Todd Macon, 29, and Christopher Johnson, 25, both of Schenectady, face second-degree murder charges as accomplices.
In court Friday afternoon, Saunders’ attorney, Adam Parisi, pleaded not guilty on Saunders’ behalf.
Best’s family, including his stepmother Karen Kirsch, filled half the gallery during the court appearance. Security was also tight.
Kirsch appeared in court having survived a suspicious fire last week at the Parkwood Boulevard apartment house. She had to be rescued by firefighters. The fire remains under investigation.
Saunders spoke briefly at the court appearance, telling Judge Matthew Sypniewski he wishes to represent himself without an attorney. Sypniewski kept Parisi on the case, saying the self-representation issue could be explored further at a later date.
Christina Tremante-Pelham is prosecuting for the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office.
Saunders, Macon and Johnson are accused of conspiring to rob Best the night of Dec. 8, 2014, into the next morning. The three allegedly sought him out and followed him home, intending to take unspecified items from him.
Both Macon and Johnson previously pleaded not guilty. They continue to be held.
The three men all face a felony conspiracy count in the indictment, the text of which gives a general outline of what prosecutors believe happened.
According to the indictments, those involved in the conspiracy “made phone calls and sent texts to [Best] to ascertain his whereabouts” late Dec. 8 and early Dec. 9, 2014.
They then drove to multiple locations where Best said he’d be, then “followed the victim to his house on Parkwood Boulevard.”
One or more of the conspirators robbed Best in the early morning hours of Dec. 9, 2014. Then in the course of that robbery, Best was shot and killed in the street.
Best’s stepmother Kirsch spoke briefly to reporters prior to Friday’s court appearance. She declined to speak on the criminal proceedings, but she spoke briefly about last week’s fire and her survival. Rescuers took her to Westchester Medical Center’s burn unit after the fire.
“I kind of just slumped to the ground,” Kirsch told reporters of the moments before her rescue, “because I really couldn’t breathe anymore. And I wasn’t afraid. I thought I was going to go see Wayne, so I was a little bit at peace, really.”
Saunders is currently serving 41⁄2 years in state prison after pleading guilty in October 2014 to felony drug possession in Albany County.
Saunders is now being held at the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock.
Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122, [email protected] or @ByStevenCook on Twitter.