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Charges dropped in deadly Buffalo shooting

/ Source: staff and news service reports

A prosecutor dropped charges Sunday against a parolee initially accused of killing four people and wounding four others outside a downtown restaurant and said the real shooter can be seen on surveillance tape.

Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III asked a judge to dismiss four murder counts against Keith Johnson, 25, of Buffalo, in light of new evidence.

"We can see the race, gender, the height, build, the clothing of the perpetrator," Sedita said after City Court Judge Patrick Carney granted the request. "You can see many of the perpetrator's actions. We have him shooting on video."

Still investigators pleaded for witnesses to speak up and warned that the person responsible for the City Grill shootings continued to elude them.

"We have somebody running around out there who shot eight people," Sedita said. "We have an armed man who's extremely dangerous loose in our community."

Johnson was released on parole in July after serving two years for assault. He remained in jail Sunday on an alleged parole violation for being at the bar Saturday, and investigators said he could be a witness in the City Grill case.

Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said that after Johnson's arrest late Saturday, witnesses began calling to say they had the wrong man. But when investigators arrived to question the callers "half of them disappeared," he said.

"None of them had come forward through the day and they had specific information," Derenda said. "They didn't want to be cooperative."

The commissioner said many people saw the Saturday shootings. More than 100 people were outside the restaurant when police arrived shortly after the 2:30 a.m., he said. An altercation at the City Grill prompted managers to close the restaurant. As people were leaving, a man began shooting, police said.

Four people, including a Texas man who was celebrating his first wedding anniversary in his hometown, were killed. Among the four wounded, one was critically injured.

Johnson was arrested by a Buffalo Police SWAT team. Investigators also removed security cameras from around the restaurant Saturday and viewed the images into the evening. In seeking dismissal of the charges, Sedita cited photo evidence and witness statements.

"I'm not going to prosecute someone for a quadruple homicide unless I'm sure he did it, and I'm not sure he did it," Sedita told the judge as Johnson sat handcuffed during the proceeding.

The police commissioner stood by Johnson's arrest.

People who were at the party identified Johnson by name, one witness picked him out of a photo lineup, Johnson gave inconsistent statements and a search of his home yielded clothing with blood on it, Derenda said. The blood hasn't been tested yet, police said.

"We acted on what we had. If we had the same information today and were given the same scenario we would have had the same result," Derenda said. "We acted quickly to rectify a situation where we were wrong, and we turned it around as quickly as possible."

Johnson's mother told The Buffalo News her son was at the restaurant at the invitation of his friend, Danyell Mackin, the Texas man who was celebrating his wedding anniversary.

"My son could have been killed. He was ducking and dodging bullets like everybody else out there," Jackie Green said.

Some of the victims were attending a party at the restaurant in advance of the couple's anniversary celebration scheduled for later Saturday. Mackin, 30, and his wife, Tanisha, married in Texas a year ago and returned to celebrate with Buffalo-area friends and family. Tanisha Mackin was not hurt in the shootings.

The youngest of the couple's two children, 7-month-old Destinee, was scheduled to be christened Sunday at Durham Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church but the ceremony was postponed. Instead, the Rev. George Woodruff called the shooting "just a senseless killing" and prayed for the victims — and gunman.

"I know some people are not comfortable with that," Woodruff said. "I pray you arrest his spirit as only you can."

The Mackins had moved from Buffalo to Austin, Texas, in 2006 and worked for a local bank.

Police identified the three others killed as Willie McCaa III, 26, of Buffalo; Shawnita McNeil, 27, of Buffalo; and Tiffany Wilhite, 32, of Buffalo.

The four wounded were Demario Vass, 30; James Robbs Jr., 27; Shamar Davis, 30; and Tillman Ward, 27.