Basil's Molly's Pub murder sentencing delayed
Motion made to set aside verdict, judge to decide in April
A little over a month ago, the testimonies of a UB student and professor helped prosecutors convict Jeffrey Basil in the death of Air National Guardsman William Sager. But Basil’s sentencing won’t come for at least another month, now that his attorney is filing a motion to set aside the verdict.
Basil’s originally scheduled sentencing Monday morning was postponed after his attorney, Joel Daniels, announced he is filing a motion to set aside Basil’s second-degree murder conviction. State Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang adjourned the case until April 7 – at which time she will decide to either retry Basil’s case or continue with sentencing.
Basil pushed 28-year-old Sager down a flight of stairs in Molly’s Pub – a once popular University Heights bar – on May 11, 2014. Sager suffered a traumatic brain injury and died on July 31. Basil was a manager at the bar. Blake Lamagna, a junior communication major and former Molly’s bartender, and William Kinney, a UB physics professor, testified in the case.
Basil’s defense argued Basil should have been convicted of first or second-degree manslaughter – not second-degree murder – and did not intend to kill Sager when he pushed him. Basil faces a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of 25 years to life in prison.
Christopher Belling, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, said he does not expect Wolfgang to overrule the jury’s original verdict on April 7.
“I think the case we made in the first trial was strong enough that the motion will not be granted and the verdict will not be set aside,” Belling said.
Belling said he was not surprised by Basil’s attorney’s motion Monday morning, although he did expect the motion to have already been filed. He said Basil’s lawyers simply sought an adjournment of proceedings Monday morning so they could then file a motion to set aside the verdict later on.
He said Basil’s attorneys waited until the day of sentencing to announce this plan because they only just received a transcript of the trial on Feb. 21. Basil’s defense and the prosecution will argue for and against the motion to Wolfgang on April 7 and she will decide whether to grant Basil another trial.
Lamagna testified Basil told her “I just … killed a kid,” as the two walked to nearby University Heights bar, The Steer, shortly after Basil pushed Sager.
Kinney provided expert testimony to show the jury the physics of Sager’s fall. He recreated Sager’s fall using what he said was basic physics he would teach in a physics 101 course. He found that Basil pushed Sager with 374 pounds of force and that Sager’s body accelerated to 17 mph when his head hit the floor.
Belling said the testimonies of both the UB student and professor were key to the prosecution.
“I think they were both important,” Belling said. “Blake’s testimony was first-hand contact with the defendant on the night of the event, and professor Kinney’s testimony was extremely important in terms of establishing the actual physics of what occurred, which I believe translates right into the intent the defendant had when he committed the acts.”
Jackson Zimmerman, a bartender at Molly’s and friend of Sager’s, testified Basil was annoyed by Sager. Zimmerman said Sager attempted to shake Basil’s hand while he was talking with two women at the bar after Basil had bought him a drink. This occurred about 15 minutes before the fatal push.
Basil’s defense said it was an incident between two intoxicated men and that Basil acted impulsively. Several witnesses testified Basil was drinking heavily, but the prosecution cited two phone calls Basil made from Erie County Holding Center in May to his friend and father in which he said he was not drunk the night of the murder.
Basil was also convicted of tampering with evidence after he removed surveillance video from inside the bar that captured Sager’s fall. Detectives recovered the videotape inside a garbage can near Molly’s.
Robert Eloff and Adam O’Shei, two off-duty Buffalo police officers who were working security inside Molly’s Pub the night of the murder, are currently suspended from the police force pending an internal investigation.
O’Shei was granted immunity for testifying, while Eloff was not granted immunity and invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Eloff faces possible federal charges for handcuffing the unconscious Sager after his fall.
Belling told The Spectrum after Basil’s conviction that the case brought about a significant change – off-duty Buffalo police officers are no longer allowed to work security at bars.
Although Belling said he does not expect the verdict to be set aside on April 7, he said a possible retrial would probably happen sometime in 2015. He said the prosecution would use its same case and arguments in a possible retrial.
Tom Dinki is the senior news editor you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org