A series of jailhouse attacks against a man who was set to testify in a murder case earlier this year has resulted in three guilty pleas and a trial set for next week.
The cases centered on three attacks on consecutive days last February against a man set to testify against James Wells. Wells was on trial then for the 2011 killing of Schenectady High School basketball player Eddie Stanley.
The witness later testified despite the attacks. And, after six weeks of testimony from a host of witnesses, Wells was convicted of second-degree murder.
On Friday, Jason Rodriguez, 29, originally from the Utica area, pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree witness tampering, a felony.
Rodriguez was accused with another inmate in the second attack on the unidentified witness. In exchange for his plea, Rodriguez is to get 1 1/2 to 3 years in prison, the same sentence two others received. His sentence, however, is to merge with a federal drug conspiracy sentence.
Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago said in court she was reluctantly accepting the deal, noting issues with the strength of the prosecution’s case. Michael Mansion, Rodriguez’s attorney, said later those issues involved witnesses he described as “a cast of characters … all dressed in orange jumpsuits.”
Another defendant, Cory Ford, 29, appeared in court Friday but rejected a plea offer that would have given him a similar sentence, though consecutive to his sentence for a parole violation. Trial in that case is to begin Monday.
Ford is accused in the first of the attacks on the witness. He is represented by attorney Mark Gaylord.
Pleading guilty earlier to related charges was Calvin Jones, 27, and Jonathan Armstrong, 24. Each got similar deals. All four were accused of attacking the witness at the direction of Wells.
None of the accused attackers had any connection to the witness, prosecutor Philip Mueller said. Prosecutors also had testimony from another witness that Wells admitted to orchestrating the attacks.
Wells was convicted of the June 2011 killing of the 15-year-old Stanley. Stanley was shot as he attended a party for teenagers, where the much older Wells was ostensibly providing security. Wells ultimately opened fire on unarmed teens in a dispute over missing keys.
Wells was sentenced in June to more than 30 years to life in prison.