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Trial to begin for Schenectady murder suspect

Trial to begin for Schenectady murder suspect

The father of shooting victim Xavier McDaniel, a onetime Schenectady basketball player killed at Jer

The father of shooting victim Xavier McDaniel, a onetime Schenectady basketball player killed at Jerry Burrell Park, wants more witnesses to tell police what they know.

Xavier McDaniel Sr. is to attend the trial of his son’s accused killer next week. It’s a trial that prosecutors have said will be made more difficult because of reluctance to testify.

“I just really want to challenge those in the city and community of Schenectady to start standing up for what’s right,” he said. “We may think it’s just about us, but it’s never just about us. It’s about doing the right thing, even when you don’t want to.”

Xavier McDaniel Jr., 21, was gunned down April 3, 2007, as he sat in his car on Hamilton Street at the park.

Omari Lee, 26, is to stand trial beginning Monday on one count of first-degree murder, and other counts. Lee is accused of gunning down McDaniel over some perceived wrong. He also allegedly stole a small bag of marijuana during the crime.

Lee has maintained his innocence, and in March he turned down any possibility of a plea deal.

His attorney, Mark Sacco, initially claimed that Lee wasn’t even in the county at the time of the attack. Sacco has missed several deadlines to give prosecutors a notice of alibi. It was unclear if Sacco would still attempt to make that claim at trial. Sacco could not be reached for comment Friday.

The case is being prosecuted by Philip Mueller.

Mueller has said the case has proved more difficult because of lack of cooperation. He declined to comment Friday.

POSSESSION CHARGE

Mueller will actually be prosecuting Lee in connection with a second shooting also, at the trial.

In that incident, Lee is thought to be the target of a Jan. 10, 2007, home invasion on Prospect Street. The four invaders allegedly were after Lee in retaliation for a slashing the month before. There is no indication the McDaniel killing was related to the invasion or the alleged slashing.

Lee exchanged fire with the invaders, hitting two and wounding one seriously. He is not charged in the shooting, however, Mueller has said, because it could be argued he fired in self-defense.

But, Mueller said, Lee should not have had the gun in the first place. Lee had a prior felony on his record.

Three of the four accused invaders have since admitted to involvement. Justin Warren, 22, the man who kicked in the door, and Daniel Riffas, 20, the target of the slashing, each pleaded guilty to burglary counts this month. Marcus Smith-Hunte, 19, accused as being the driver, remains facing charges.

Warren was shot in the hand. The fourth man, Christopher Millington, 21, was injured critically, suffering a gunshot wound to his abdomen, authorities said.

Millington recovered sufficiently enough later to be charged with felony burglary. He later pleaded to misdemeanor criminal trespass. The plea was due to lack of evidence against him, Mueller said. Police could not question him until later.

In relation to McDaniel’s killing, two others also face trial.

Andrew Watson, 17, also known as Andrew Blount, was charged in September with perjury, accused of lying about whether he saw Xavier McDaniel Jr.’s killer at the time of the shooting. Watson initially lied to police about what he saw, giving police a false affidavit, Mueller said.

A second man, identified as Watson’s brother Allen Blount, was also arrested related to the killing. Allen Blount faced a gun charge, accused of possessing a weapon at the scene of the shooting.

Authorities believe Allen Blount was with Lee at the time, but Blount was standing away from Lee when Lee is accused of shooting McDaniel, Mueller said. The status of each man’s case could not be determined Friday.

FATHER’S NIGHTMARE

McDaniel played guard on the Schenectady High School basketball team during part of the 2002-03 season, playing in seven games and averaging more than 13 points per game. He had earlier played for the Berkshire High School basketball team.

His father arrived on the scene of his son’s shooting an hour later and could only put his hand to his forehead in disbelief as detectives confirmed his fears.

Xavier Sr. has since dedicated himself to ridding the streets of violence, holding periodic events in the neighborhood toward that goal.

One was held two weeks ago, called A Plea for Peace. It was held on the first anniversary of his son’s death.

Regarding the man accused of killing his son, Xavier Sr. said he has already forgiven him.

“I can’t walk around with that type of malice in my heart,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. I keep praying for that young man. I pray that he gets to the point that he can turn himself around.

“I have to pray for him. I don’t have a choice.”

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