Sentencing for James Wells, the man convicted in the 2011 killing of 15-year-old Eddie Stanley, was postponed Friday in favor of arguments on a defense motion for a new trial.
Such motions are standard, rarely successful and often ruled upon on the day of sentencing. But in the Wells case, which lasted eight weeks from jury selection to verdict, Judge Michael Coccoma chose to hear arguments on the motion Friday morning and issue a written decision later.
No new sentencing date was set.
In the defense motion filed Thursday, Wells attorney Cheryl Coleman cited a long list of trial rulings issued by Coccoma that she argued were incorrect and should result in a new trial.
Wells, 33, of Brooklyn, was convicted in March of all charges against him, the top count being second-degree murder.
The jury found that it was Wells who killed the unarmed teenager as a party broke up at 730 Bridge St. Wells was also was convicted of weapons possession, evidence tampering and child endangerment.
He now faces up to 25 years to life in state prison on the murder conviction and lesser terms on the other charges, possibly to run consecutively.
Prosecutors said Wells fired four shots from a .44 Magnum revolver early June 12, 2011, killing the Schenectady High School basketball player. The shooting happened after rental car keys belonging to Wells and his friends — ostensibly security at the party — went missing and Wells demanded everyone at the party submit to a search as they left.
Stanley was shot after a fight erupted in the stairwell leading outside. One witness said Stanley tried to leave, ultimately punching Wells in a bid to get past him. Wells, an admitted drug dealer, responded by opening fire with his .44 Magnum, a gun prosecutor Philip Mueller called a “hand cannon,” killing the unarmed teen.
The arguments in the defense motion Friday ranged from the contention that Coccoma should not have allowed testimony about Wells’ prior drug dealing and gang affiliation to the jury being tainted by emotion shown by Stanley family members in the gallery during the trial.
Coleman declined to make further arguments in court beyond the arguments she made in her written motion.
Outside, Coleman said such motions generally serve as a road map for the appeal, conceding that there is little hope for a ruling in Wells’ favor on the current motion. “It’s going to be denied, the judge is going to bang him [on the sentence] and it’s all about whether or not he prevails on appeal,” she said.
On appeal, Coleman said she believes the arguments about the admission of Wells’ drug dealing and gang activity will be the strongest argument for a new trial.
“There was no legitimate purpose for that,” she said. “By the people’s own admission, it wasn’t a gang-related shooting; it wasn’t a drug deal gone bad.”
In court, Mueller argued against each point, saying Coccoma’s rulings were proper.
On the issue of Wells’ prior acts, the gang affiliation and drug dealing, Mueller argued that the information was important in allowing the jury to understand the relationships between Wells and his associates there and the background of what happened.
Mueller also cited case law that supports the introduction of such evidence in similar cases.
Regarding one of the other defense arguments, the emotion showed by Stanley’s family, Mueller noted that the family member who’d become emotional got up and left the courtroom.
“That is simply the nature of this kind of case,” Mueller told Coccoma, “a murder trial. They were entitled to be here. They acted appropriately at all times, and they acted as disciplined as we could possibly expect of human beings under the circumstances.”