A prosecutor said the evidence didn't back up murder charges against a parolee who had been accused of opening fire outside a downtown Buffalo restaurant, killing four people and wounding four others, and had the counts dismissed Sunday.
Keith Johnson, 25, of Buffalo, was still being held in jail on a parole violation. He could be rearrested if authorities change their minds, but Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III cited photo evidence and witness statements in seeking dismissal.
"I'm not going to prosecute someone for a quadruple homicide unless I'm sure he did it,'' Sedita told City Court Judge Patrick Carney, with Johnson sitting handcuffed next to him, "and I'm not sure he did it.''
Eight people leaving a party were shot early Saturday, four of them fatally, including a Texas man who had returned to his hometown to celebrate his first wedding anniversary, police said.
Managers of the restaurant had decided to close the City Grill in the city's business district after an altercation inside. The victims were leaving at about 2:30 a.m. when gunfire erupted, police said.
"There were verbal things going on. Management apparently chose to close down and have everybody leave the restaurant," Chief of Detectives Dennis Richards said. "People were leaving when this shooting happened."
Investigators did not know how many shooters there were and asked for witnesses to speak up. "We need people to come forward," said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, who estimated there were 100 people at the scene when police arrived.
The group was attending a party in advance of a more formal anniversary celebration scheduled for later Saturday, authorities said. The couple, a 30-year-old man and his wife, married in Texas a year ago and had returned to celebrate with Buffalo-area friends and family, authorities said. The wife was not among those struck by gunfire.
"An occasion that should have been a joyous one, a happy one, turned tragic," Mayor Byron Brown said.
The dead included two men, the 30-year-old and a 26-year-old, and two women, who were 27 and 32, Richards said. Three were pronounced dead at the scene and the fourth died at a hospital.
Raymond Wilhite said his 32-year-old daughter, Tiffany Wilhite, was among those killed.
"A senseless, random killing," said Wilhite, who returned to the restaurant a few hours after the shooting. "This kind of thing just has to stop."
Authorities say the four wounded were all men. One was in critical condition at a Buffalo hospital Saturday afternoon. Two were in stable condition and one was in good condition.
Tommy Dates, 35, of Buffalo, said he was at the bar area of the restaurant with his friends when he noticed a party had broken up. He said people started leaving the restaurant but rushed back inside a few minutes later.
"A lot of people were real upset, just trying to get out of the way," Dates said at the scene about two hours after the shootings. "Everyone was in a panic."
A message left for the restaurant's owners was not immediately returned.
Three covered bodies lay in front of the restaurant for several hours, one of them on the sidewalk across the street. About 20 people stood behind yellow crime scene tape, some trying to console grief-stricken relatives and friends.
The window of an office next to the Main Street restaurant was shattered, as was glass in a subway entrance across the street.