Shackled murder suspect pulls note from sock in court

As the judge looked on, puzzled, the suspect pulled several yellow lined pieces of paper from one of his socks


Douglass Dowty
Syracuse Media Group, N.Y.

Syracuse, NY -- Defense lawyer Ben Coffin had just finished making a strenuous argument about a key witness in a murder case today when his client asked to speak.

Vladimir Brown, 35, shackled and in jail garb, reached down to his sock as he stood in County Court Thomas J. Miller's courtroom.

As the judge looked on, puzzled, Brown pulled several yellow lined pieces of paper from one of his socks. But before he could start reading, the judge looked at his lawyers.

Had they talked to Brown about whatever he was going to read? the judge asked.

"No, your honor," lawyers Ben Coffin and Kerry Buske said in unison.

Miller, clearly uncomfortable letting Brown deliver some kind of in-depth statement -- which could be used against him later -- offered to let him talk with his lawyers in private before proceeding.

After a brief conversation with his lawyers, Brown agreed.

His lawyers came back later to have the case adjourned without bringing Brown back into the courtroom.

It's unclear why Brown concealed the notes in his sock; defendants routinely bring paperwork to court with them. But it clearly caught his lawyers off-guard.

Brown, 35, is accused of shooting to death Charles Nichols, 37, sometime after midnight May 5 at 106 Lawrence Street. Nichols' body was then moved twice by another man before being found two days later, police said.

Coffin, one of his lawyers, had spent several minutes before her client pulled out his statement pointing out a concern with a key witness in the case.

That woman is poised to be an eyewitness in the case. But she was originally treated as a possible suspect, being interrogated at police headquarters downtown.

The first part of her interrogation was videotaped -- as are all important interviews in Syracuse murder cases -- but she was later taken to a second room.

It's there that the woman agreed to cooperate and implicated Brown in the murder. But the video recording system in that second room did not capture the several-hour interview, Coffin said.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Melinda McGunnigle said that the recording system in the room was broken and turned off on its own soon after being turned on. She blamed the malfunction for the missing video, not intentional concealment.

But Coffin asked for a hearing to determine exactly why the recording was missing. He suggested that police may have offered the witness a deal for cooperating against Brown.

That witness will still need to testify in open court against Brown at trial, but Coffin argued that not having that tape deprived his client of the right to face his accuser.

Miller, the judge, said he didn't see a need for a hearing. Because of the missing video, McGunnigle will turn over the witness's grand jury testimony, which apparently also implicated Brown as the shooter.

Coffin also argued that there may have been evidence of someone else with a gun nearby shortly before the shooting.

Brown is due back to court next month as he prepares for trial. He faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted of murder.

A second man, Nichoas Costello, is accused of moving the victim's corpse afterward. He's also facing a prison sentence, if convicted.

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©2018 Syracuse Media Group, N.Y.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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