MAN ACQUITTED IN FATAL HOME INVASION

Jim O'hara - The Post-Standard

A Syracuse man who police said had admitted participating in a fatal home invasion was acquitted of all charges Wednesday, one day after jurors reported being unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Shala Williams, 23, of East Division Street, was facing charges of second-degree murder, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, first-degree burglary and attempted first-degree robbery in the death of James Brennan Jr. Brennan died shortly after being shot during a break-in at his Graves Street home Sept. 9, 2006. After the acquittal, state Supreme Court Justice John Brunetti ordered Williams released from jail.

Wednesday was the third day of deliberations. The jurors had twice reported Tuesday they were unable to reach a verdict, but Brunetti gave them additional instructions about trying to break their deadlock.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael Spano and defense lawyer George Hildebrandt both said they did not know what enabled the jurors to reach a consensus Wednesday.

Both said there were potential evidentiary problems with the prosecution's case.

While co-defendant Clarence Paige said it was Williams who shot Brennan, an eyewitness testified Williams was not the person with the gun, the lawyers said. That witness also provided a description of Williams that did not match the defendant, the lawyers said.

Hildebrandt said that while Williams' alibi did not cover the time of the break-in and shooting, that evidence was not consistent with him planning the attack with the other defendants.

The prosecution wasn't able to present evidence that Williams admitted to police he participated in the fatal break-in. In June, Brunetti ordered any statements from Williams suppressed, finding the prosecution had failed to disprove Williams' contention that he asked to talk to a lawyer and was denied by the police who questioned him.

Spano declined comment Wednesday on the suppression issue.

Paige, 16, of Syracuse, faces a sentence of 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree burglary.

Co-defendant Cody Backus, 21, of Brewerton, faces 25 years to life in prison after being convicted of murder, burglary and attempted robbery charges in a separate trial two weeks ago.