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Guilty verdict in murder of Wayne Best

Guilty verdict in murder of Wayne Best

Deliberations took less than 5 hours
Guilty verdict in murder of Wayne Best
Troy Saunders is escorted out of a Schenectady County courtroom after the verdict was read Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

SCHENECTADY -- A jury on Wednesday convicted Troy Saunders of robbery and murder in the shooting death of Wayne Best, after about five hours of deliberations.

Saunders remained calm as each guilty verdict was read.

Best's family and friends attended the verdict, as they did much of the trial. His mother, Karen Kirsch, and father, Wayne Best Sr., held hands in court, and a brother of Best hugged an investigator in thanks later.

The jury found Saunders, 32, was the masked man who killed the 25-year-old Best on Parkwood Boulevard early on Dec. 9, 2014. Saunders then took Best's marijuana and $300 in cash.

Saunders now faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole at his April sentencing. Prosecutors said they intend to seek the maximum sentence.

Saunders and others plotted to rob Best of marijuana; two others were charged in the plot with Saunders, but they pleaded guilty to robbery and testified against him.

Saunders represented himself throughout the trial, offering openings and closings and questioning each witness. He also testified in his own defense, denying any involvement in the crime.

WAYNE BEST VICCARO_5.jpg

Members of Best's family would not comment afterward, but they met with prosecutors following the proceedings.

Prosecutor Christina Tremante-Pelham described the family as grateful to all those involved in the prosecution of the case.

"Obviously the verdict doesn't take away the loss that they all suffered," Tremante-Pelham said. "But it does give them a sense of closure and justice for Wayne, and they're grateful to all the witnesses that came forward in the case."

Police arrested Saunders and his two former co-defendants -- Todd Macon, 30, and Christopher Johnson, 26 -- more than 14 months after Best's death.

The prosecutor noted the divergent pictures of Saunders -- the picture proved by the evidence and the cordial one Saunders portrayed in court.

"There are two sides to him," Tremante-Pelham said. "He can come across on one hand as very polite and charming. On the other hand, he's very dangerous. That makes him even more dangerous that he's able to do that."

The jury Wednesday morning asked to see surveillance video from a nearby home that captured images of two men fleeing the scene, as well as testimony from Johnson and secretly recorded audio of Johnson outlining the plot weeks before police questioned him.

Tremante-Pelham used that secret recording to rebut Saunders' contention that Johnson changed his account and lied to get a lesser sentence.

Johnson is to receive a sentence of between 12.5 and 20 years, while Macon is to receive between 15 and 25 years in prison.

"It was a great effort by everybody involved," said Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford, who worked the case himself in his previous position as a lieutenant. "It was a team effort that really helped bring this case to a closure."

Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney called the case one that could easily have remained unsolved, but for good police work and some breaks.

"It was a whodunit," Carney said, "the kind of case that can grow cold on you and be hard to solve. But they were diligent. They were really diligent about it."

Tremante-Pelham prosecuted the case with fellow prosecutor Michael Nobles. Saunders had attorney Joseph Gardner to aid with legal questions as he defended himself.

Judge Matthew Sypniewski presided.

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