Image: Riccardo M. McCray listens to his attorney's closing argument at the Erie County Courthouse, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Derek Gee  /  Pool Buffalo News via AP
Riccardo M. McCray listens to his attorney's closing argument at the Erie County Courthouse, in Buffalo on Thursday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 4/1/2011 8:13:19 AM ET 2011-04-01T12:13:19

A 24-year-old man was convicted Thursday of a deadly shooting outside a restaurant following a dispute over spilled Champagne.

Riccardo McCray showed no visible emotion as he was found guilty on three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder stemming from a 17-second rampage last summer in downtown Buffalo .

The murder charges could send him to prison for life with no chance of parole.

Erie County Prosecutor James Bargnesi said the former gang member was responsible for "death and injury on a level this city has never seen" for the shooting, which broke out after an argument at a party inside the City Grill restaurant spilled into the street.

'A weight was lifted'
About 40 family members, many of whom sat through seven days of testimony that included graphic video surveillance and autopsy photos, were in the courtroom for the 10:30 p.m. verdict, delivered after seven hours of deliberations. Some cried and held hands as it was read.

"It was like a weight was lifted," said Dorothy Wilhite, whose 32-year-old daughter Tiffany was among those killed. "I've been so down for the last seven months without my child. It's like I got a new spirit."

McCray didn't testify. In an interview at a television station where he turned himself in 11 days after the shooting, he said he was at the restaurant when shots erupted but wasn't the shooter.

Among the prosecution's 49 witnesses were five eyewitnesses who identified McCray — some by his nickname "Murder" — as the lone gunman among a crowd of people who had emptied out of the restaurant after managers shut it down following an early morning fight Aug. 14.

Prosecutors said he fired 10 shots in 17 seconds. The murder weapon was never found.

Defense attorney Joseph Terranova had hoped to sway jurors away from believing the witnesses, pointing out that it was an eyewitness who initially "positively" identified someone else as the shooter and that others might have been motivated to cooperate in hopes of favorable treatment for their own pending criminal cases.

"This case is one finagler after another," Terranova said, calling the prosecution's witnesses "a long line of self-serving people who are playing you for all they can do."

Newlywed slain
The victims had been attending a promoter-organized party. It was shut down after a dispute over spilled Champagne, according to testimony.

Jurors gasped when, at one point during the trial, video was shown of the shooter stooping to fire a final, fatal shot into the back of one of the victims, a newlywed groom in town to celebrate his marriage.

"This is a simple case," Bargnesi added. "A simple case of disgusting and senseless terror and gun violence."

Ballistics evidence showed all victims were killed with the same 9 mm handgun. A witness testified he threw the gun off a bridge at the instruction of a friend of McCray's who drove the killer from the restaurant.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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