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Saunders gets life sentence for murder of Wayne Best

Saunders gets life sentence for murder of Wayne Best

Convicted murderer claims innocence as he is sentenced
Saunders gets life sentence for murder of Wayne Best
Troy Saunders leaves a Schenectady County courtroom after being convicted in February for the murder of Wayne Best.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

SCHENECTADY -- A man who prosecutors said was a former New York City street gang member was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Friday for killing a Schenectady man while robbing him in 2014.

Troy Saunders, 32, was sentenced by Schenectady County Court Judge Matthew J. Sypniewski for first-degree murder in the death of 25-year-old Wayne Best on Dec. 9, 2014. Best was killed outside his Parkwood Boulevard home by a masked man later identified as Saunders, as part of a robbery that netted $300 and some marijuana.

Saunders, who continued on Friday to say he was innocent, was convicted following a jury trial in February. He was also convicted of robbery charges and will separately serve sentences of up to 25 years on each of those charges. Saunders did not display any reaction as he was sentenced.

Best's family urged the maximum sentence for Saunders, who also has a manslaughter conviction for killing a man during a gang fight in 2002 in the Bronx. He was released from prison on that conviction in 2012.

"I don't think we could have asked for anything better," said Best's mother, Karen Kirsch, following the sentencing.

Kirch and Best's father, Wayne Best Sr., each gave emotional victim impact statements to the court before the sentencing.

"The hole in our heart will never heal," said Best Sr.

Saunders represented himself throughout the trial, though attorney Joseph Gardner was assigned to advise him. Saunders spoke briefly on Friday, primarily addressing about 25 family and friends of Best who were in the courtroom.

"I might not be believed, but I am very sorry for your loss. I maintain my innocence," he told the gallery.

After the sentencing, District Attorney Robert Carney praised the work of Schenectady police investigators and the prosecutors: assistant district attorneys Christina Tremante-Pelham and Michael Nobles. Saunders and two former co-defendants were arrested more than 14 months after the killing.

"This was an extensive investigation by police, who did an excellent job, and my trial team was outstanding," Carney said. "He did a good job defending himself. Ultimately, I think that makes it much more likely the conviction will be affirmed."

In court, Tremante-Pelham said Best was a promising young man who played lacrosse at Schenectady High School and Herkimer County Community College. He also had jobs at Price Chopper and Plaine's bike shop in Schenectady.

She said Saunders was a member of the Bloods street gang in New York City when he killed a man in 2002, leading to his manslaughter conviction, and he was awaiting sentencing on a Schenectady drug charge when he robbed and killed Best.

"He refuses to live in the community and not commit crimes," Tremante-Pelham told the judge. "He has killed, and then killed again."

She said Saunders and two co-defendants hatched a plan to rob Best, but it was Saunders who obtained the gun and brought it to the robbery. Wearing a mask, he appeared from the dark to rob Best, and when Best fought back, Saunders shot him twice, once in the heart.

"This was a case of unprovoked armed violence perpetrated on an unsuspecting, unarmed victim as he was going home for the night," Tremante-Pelham said.

The two co-defendants later pleaded guilty to robbery charges and testified against Saunders. Todd Macon, 30, was sentenced to 15 to 25 years in prison for robbery, and Christopher Johnson, 26, was sentenced to 12 1/2 to 20 years in prison.

Best's parents and younger brother Johnny were home and came outside as Best was dying.

"It's left me with a haunting visual whenever I close my eyes," Kirch said in her victim impact statement, during which she became emotional. "He was a great son and brother. He was not afraid to show his love."

Saunders has 30 days to file an appeal.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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