Convicted Highland Avenue shooter may lose plea deal sentence as result of new drug charge

·4 min read

Sep. 4—Joachim Sylvester showed up in Niagara County Court on Aug. 1 expecting to be re-sentenced and released from any additional prison time following a plea deal in his second trial for a bold April 2014 mid-afternoon shooting on Highland Avenue.

But instead of leaving Niagara County Court Judge John Ottaviano's courtroom a free man, Sylvester left in handcuffs. He wasn't re-sentenced, he was arrested on a new grand jury indictment that charged him with second-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance.

The sudden reversal of fortune left Sylvester, 45, who has been described by law enforcement sources as a known drug dealer and street gang member, stunned and facing a potential return to prison in connection with the Highland Avenue shooting and yet another lengthy term behind bars if he is convicted on the drug charge.

In October 2014, a Niagara County Court jury, of eight women and four men deliberated for about three hours before finding Sylvester guilty of attempted murder and weapons charges in a brazen mid-day shooting incident in the center of Highland Avenue on April 17, 2014.

The key piece of evidence in the case was video, captured by security cameras on the front of a convenience store, that showed a man, identified by police and prosecutors as Sylvester, firing shots from a handgun at another man.

The video showed the victim arriving in front of the store and engaging in conversations with several people, including someone inside a black SUV parked in front of the business. As the victim stood on the street, the video showed a silver SUV driving up, with the driver of that vehicle pointing a handgun out the window.

The victim, who was in a direct line of fire from the handgun, can then be seen, in the video, running away.

A fraction of a second later, the video shows bystanders scattering in every direction as the driver of the silver SUV exits his vehicle. The gunman then chases the victim, rapidly firing shots at him.

The victim is then seen diving into another SUV that attempts to speed off, but instead slaloms down Highland Avenue, smashing head-on into another black SUV parked in front of the convenience store.

The gunman, identified as Sylvester, then returns to the silver SUV and drives away from the scene.

After his conviction, now retired Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III rejected Sylvester's request to set aside the jury verdict and sentenced him to 25 years behind bars for the attempted murder conviction and an additional 15 years on the weapons possession charge. Those sentences were to run concurrently.

Sylvester served six and a half years of his sentence before the Appellate Division Fourth Department of New York State Supreme Court ruled that Murphy had erred in allowing some evidence into his trial. A five-judge panel of the Fourth Department court, in November 2020, unanimously reversed Sylvester's conviction and ordered that he be given a new trial.

Sylvester posted $5,000 bail in early 2021 and was released from custody pending a new trial in his case. While he was originally placed on an ankle monitor, that restriction was lifted over the strenuous objections of prosecutors after the case was transferred to Ottaviano following Murphy's retirement.

Prior to his scheduled re-trail date in June, Sylvester agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors. In return for pleading guilty to the second-degree criminal possession of a weapon charge, prosecutors dropped the attempted murder count.

Ottaviano agreed to sentence Sylvester to a prison term of 4 years behind bars and 4 years post release supervision in return for the plea. Having already served more than 6 years in prison, Sylvester would have effectively finished his time behind bars and been fully released from custody.

Except for the new grand jury indictment.

Prosecutors charge that while Sylvester was out on bail and off the ankle monitor he was engaged in selling narcotics in the Falls.

After his arrest at the courthouse, he was ordered held without bail. Ottaviano has set a hearing in October on a prosecution request to scuttle the proposed plea deal sentence.

Sylvester will be back at the Niagara County courthouse this month for pre-trial proceedings in his drug case.