Tuesday, April 3, 2007, was an almost perfect spring day 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, when Schenectady police Officer Christopher Wrubel pulled his cruiser behind the Mazda and got out to investigate.
Wrubel, a patrol officer with nearly two decades 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, continuing coolly to shoot basketballs.
“There was nothing to indicate anything was wrong,” Wrubel said in testimony today as the first prosecution witness the trial of Omari Lee in Schenectady County Court.
Lee, 27, faces a first-degree murder charge of intentionally killing Xavier McDaniel, 21, as McDaniel 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 head and arm belonged to McDaniel, whose body was wedged between the passenger side door and passenger seat. His left arm was sprawled across the seat’s headrest as if he was 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 spent shell casings outside the driver’s side door.
By then other law enforcement officers has arrived, and Wrubel directed them to interview the youths on the basketball court. Paramedics also arrived, and Wrubel joined with them in trying to revive McDaniel with CPR and other methods. Their efforts were fruitless; McDaniel had died within minutes of being fatally shot in the heart.
Prosecutor Philip Mueller asked Wrubel whether anyone — the youths playing basketball just feet away, neighbors or 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 Tuesday in which he said these same youths had come over to the Mazda almost immediately after Lee allegedly shot McDaniel and peered in at McDaniel's still-twitching body.
Rather than call for help on their cellphones, they went back to their game, Mueller said. Another person who drove by the car after the shooting called police, he said.
Lee sat practically motionless during Wrubel’s testimony, exhibiting little emotion.
Defense attorney Mark Sacco said there is no evidence connecting Lee to the crime. Police never recovered the .22-caliber, semi-automatic handgun allegedly used to kill McDaniel, and a police surveillance video recorded that 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.