Social Culture African American
Torture Slaying in Buffalo
Could Yield Five Death Penalties
5 charged in murder could face death penalty
By GENE WARNER , EMMA D. SAPONG AND SANDRA TAN
News Staff Reporters
The slaying of 17-year-old James Jerome Mack shows signs of a torture killing. He was beaten with bottles and blunt objects. He was stabbed. He was strangled with an electrical cord. He was sexually assaulted with a broom handle. He then was placed face-down for a couple of hours in a bathtub filled with water, while those charged with his killing played cards and watched television in a North Pearl Street apartment. Then his body was tossed in a trash container, wheeled next to a dumpster and set on fire.
"Yesterday we had a sickening, vicious homicide," Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina said Tuesday. Five young people, none old enough to drink legally, face second-degree
murder charges. Some could face even more serious charges. Authorities are considering the murder a possible torture killing, which would enable them to seek first-degree murder charges - and possibly the death penalty - against any of the five young adults already charged with second-degree murder and sexual abuse.
Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark confirmed Tuesday that the case will go to a grand jury. Mack, named for an uncle who died at age 19, is dead at 17. His disbelieving mother still expects her "Ro" to return to their Hedley Place home. Buffalo Traditional School classmates mourn the loss of the tall, friendly "dude" with the braids in his hair. The accused killers were identified Tuesday as Antonio Walker, 18, of North Pearl Street; Anthony Giles, 18, who gave no permanent address; Kareemaha Luper, 18, of Main Street; William Lauderdale, 20, of Prospect Avenue; and Terry Mixon, 19, of Busti Avenue. Luper is the lone female in the group.
Police can't explain why the killing occurred or why it was so vicious. They don't believe this was a drug deal gone bad. They have no evidence of any drug or alcohol involvement. Detectives are investigating the possibility that the beating was revenge - or a perceived revenge - for something Mack might have done. One of the five assailants, according to police, had accused Mack of setting him up for some kind of recent attack or fight. However, police aren't sure that was the case. "We don't know what the motive was," said Capt. Joseph Riga, commander of the Homicide Bureau. Mack arrived at the North Pearl Street house by himself, apparently late Sunday night, police sources said. He was visiting a person inside the apartment who wasn't one of the five people later arrested. Police, however, refused to say how many people were inside the apartment.
Police believe the beating took only minutes. After Mack was placed in the bathtub for a few hours, his killers wrapped his body in a blanket and stuffed it in a large blue trash container. They then wheeled it next to a dumpster behind St. Louis Catholic Church on Main Street, where they set the body and the trash container on fire, at roughly 2 a.m. Monday. The business manager at the church discovered the body at about 8 a.m. Monday. Police found only the body, a small piece of burned blanket under the victim's head and a metal piece from the trash container. An autopsy has determined that Mack died of blunt-force trauma and strangulation.
On Tuesday, while the Erie County medical examiner tried to confirm the dead youth's identity, Diana Mack sat in her Hedley Place home, sobbing
and talking to the picture of her son: "Ro, come home," she said. "I'm not going to be mad at you. Just come home." Diana Mack, 37, said she doesn't believe her only son is dead. "He's over at his girlfriend's house," she said. "He's coming home because he's got (Regents) exams tomorrow." The news is even more difficult for her to accept because she named James after her brother, who died of heart problems the year before James was born. "My brother was taken away from me when he was 19," she said. "And now they want to take my baby from me. I won't have that." She last saw James on Sunday morning, before he left to visit a girlfriend. She said he called her in the afternoon to say that he would be home in the evening. Diana Mack described her son as an all-around good kid who never had any run-ins with the law. He loved basketball and was active in other sports. He was very popular with his female friends, who nicknamed him Romeo.
She's familiar with all of her son's friends and believes that her son didn't know any of the five accused of killing him. "I know all of my son's friends, and they all know me. They call me "Ma.' They love me." Neighbors, too, are in disbelief. The last time Cornelia White of Oakgrove Street saw Mack was Friday, when he helped her step over a snowbank so she could get into a taxicab. "It's really hard to believe. He was the nicest person that I ever met," she said. "I would be taking my garbage out, and he'd come over and do it for me." Death penalty case? Clark, the district attorney, explained how this could become a death penalty case.
The state's death penalty law specifies certain types of killings that can lead to first-degree murder charges and give prosecutors the option of seeking the death penalty. One of those is death by torture. "We're looking at all the facts surrounding the death, which are many and bizarre," Clark said. "We will consider those facts in light of the
(torture) subdivision of the murder-first statute to see whether charges of first-degree murder are appropriate." The death penalty law defines torture as the intentional and depraved infliction of extreme physical pain, with the killers relishing the infliction of that pain. Does this killing qualify as torture? "At first blush, it would appear to be conduct contemplated by that subdivision of the law," Clark said. The murder suspects' ages, though, could work against the possible seeking of the death penalty, based on previous cases. All are between 18 and 20. The death penalty law, which took effect in 1995, can apply to any killer 18 or over.
Investigators also would have to determine which, if any, of the suspects shared the intent to torture the victim. "When there are many actors, we would have to establish the relative culpability of each person," Clark said. Disbelieving schoolmates At Buffalo Traditional School on Tuesday afternoon, word still was filtering through the student body that Mack was dead. Many found it unbelievable that the tall, friendly young man with short braids could run into such trouble.
"Are you serious?" said Michael Jones, a 17-year-old senior who considered Mack a friend and regularly ate lunch with him. "Man. He was a nice dude. Really loud sometimes, played around a lot." Descriptions of Mack ranged from sweet and playful to loud and annoying, but never mean, menacing or tough. He was the sort who listened to music and made trips to the mall for new clothes. That's why his death came as such a shock to many of his classmates. Students said Mack was behind his grade level in school and occasionally pulled stunts to get attention, but nothing that suggested he was in trouble.
"He's not a guy that picks fights," said Lakisha Moya, an 18-year-old senior. Seeking answers Homicide detectives late Tuesday still were trying to determine the motive and the sequence of events inside the apartment at 39 North Pearl, just north of the Theater District. "There's no indication that there were drugs involved in the homicide,
not at this point anyway," Riga said. The North Pearl Street apartment reportedly was rented to a friend of one of the suspects. One of the suspects listed that apartment as his address when he was arrested; some of the others apparently stayed there occasionally.
Six homicide detectives - Anthony Costantino, Raniero Masecchia, Patrick Judge, Andres Ortiz, Sylvestre Acosta and Mark Krawczyk - worked all day Monday and through the night, before charging the five with murder. Though detectives still are trying to determine exactly what happened - and why - no one could argue with Riga's statement: "It was an extremely vicious and bizarre attack."