STATE SUPREME COURT
Matthews, ringleader of the masked stickup attempt by three teenage girls
in a Grand Island restaurant, was convicted Friday of misdemeanor
conspiracy and menacing charges.
Following a three-day nonjury trial, State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia also found Matthews, now 20, not guilty of felony conspiracy charges, which carried a possible four-year prison term.
Matthews, who could be sentenced Feb. 21 to probation or up to one year in jail, was allowed to remain free on $7,500 bail previously posted.
The East Park Road resident testified Wednesday that she, Caitlin Connelly and Krystal Rains had only intended to scare the patrons and workers at Cathy & Jim's Del & Herb's restaurant on Baseline Road about 1 a.m. Feb. 9. All three were quickly arrested after the botched holdup.
According to testimony from a friend of Matthews, restaurant manager Marci Siezega and patron Patrick Wheeler, the three girls wore "Scream" movie masks and costumes purchased in Niagara Falls the previous day and were armed with BB pistols, a hacksaw, a pry bar and a steel mallet.
After unsuccessfully trying to cover the license plates on their getaway car with duct tape, the three masked girls entered the restaurant, held their weapons above their heads and screamed for everyone to get on the floor, according to testimony.
Monday, Siezega testified that one of the girls pointed what later was determined to have been an inoperable pellet gun at her and ordered her away from the telephone. Siezega told the judge she thought she was going to be killed.
Wheeler testified that Matthews pushed him from his bar stool. Then Michael Litzel, the restaurant's cook, grabbed the mallet from Matthews and hit her on the head. He said he began begging for his life because he expected to be shot as one of the other girls pointed a pistol at him.
Wednesday, an 18-year-old Grand Island girl who is a friend of all three defendants testified that they all went to her house to bake cookies hours before the restaurant incident and while there asked her to go to Canada with them.
The girl testified that when she told them she couldn't because she didn't have any money, one of the girls told her not to worry because they would have some money "very soon." She said she couldn't recall who made that remark.
Court officials said Litzel didn't testify because prosecutors couldn't locate him.
Matthews declined to comment as she left court with her parents. Her attorney, John R. Nuchereno, said Matthews, who hopes to enlist in the U.S. Army, does not plan to appeal the misdemeanor conviction.
"The defendant is well satisfied with the outcome," Nuchereno said.
Matthews' co-defendants pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy charges. Each was placed on probation for the next five years and awarded youthful offender status, which spares them a criminal record.
Matthews reportedly opted for a trial because she was not eligible for youthful offender status.
Rains was sentenced Sept. 23 by Erie County Judge Michael F. Pietruszka on her guilty plea. On July 30, acting State Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. McCarthy granted Connelly youthful offender status and placed her on probation for five years for her identical plea.
In sentencing Connelly, McCarthy, the supervising judge for all criminal courts in Western New York, described Matthews as the "agent provocateur in the ill-conceived and not well-executed" robbery.
Buscaglia on Friday declined to comment on his reasoning in reaching the verdict in the Matthews case.