Niagara Gazette

March 26, 2014

Victim IDs shooter

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT -- As police raced to his South End home, John Petty begged a fire department dispatcher to "hurry up" and told her who had shot him.

Niagara County prosecutors wasted no time Tuesday in playing a recording of Petty's May 26 call to 911 as they began the attempted murder trial of Petty's accused shooter, Cordarise Houston.

Houston, 23, 666 70th St., is charged with attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon in the shooting of Petty, 24, who was described as a close friend. 

First Assistant Niagara County District Attorney Doreen Hoffmann told a county court jury of eight men and four women, who are hearing the case, that Petty was critically wounded in a hail of gunfire that ripped through the living room of his Cudaback Avenue home in the early morning hours.

"(Petty) was there (in his home), alone, when a man came in and fired seven (shots) at him and left him to die," Hofmann said in her opening statement of the trial. "That man was Cordarise Houston."

Hoffmann told jurors that, as Petty lay on his living room floor in a pool of blood, he was able to get out his cell phone and call police. The jury listened intently as Hoffmann played a recording of that call.

"I'm shot. Hurry up. Hurry up. I'm dying," Petty told Falls Fire Department Dispatcher Drew Lazarou, who answered his call. 

Lazarou, who took the stand to testify, said she immediately sent fire and ambulance crews to the shooting scene and asked police dispatchers to send officers as well. The dispatcher said Petty sounded "very upset" and "in pain," but she stayed on the line with him and continued to ask questions.

"Who shot you?" Lazarou asked.

"Cordarise Houston," Petty replied. 

"Who?" she asked again.

"Cordarise Houston," Petty said. "Cord Houston."

In his opening statement to jurors, defense attorney Angelo Musitano insisted his client did not pull the trigger in the shooting.

"We say Mr. Houston is not guilty. We say Ms. Hoffmann cannot prove the case against him," Musitano said. "We believe Mr. Petty is going to come into this courtroom and not point out that man (Houston)."

It's not clear whether the victim will testify during the trial. Petty was paralyzed as a result of the shooting and prosecutors say he no longer remembers anything about the incident.

They also say that won't hurt their case.

"(The fire dispatcher) asked him, 'Who shot you?,'" Hoffman told the jury. "With what he thought was his dying breath, (Petty) said, 'Cordarise Houston. Cord Houston."

The first police officer to reach Petty also testified that he fingered his friend "Cord."

Officer Daniel Haney said that when he entered Petty's home, minutes after his 911 call, he found the victim face down on the floor, with a cell phone near his head.

"I heard someone shouting, 'I'm in here' and I saw (Petty) in the middle of his living room, down on his stomach," Haney said. "He was going in and out of consciousness. He was bleeding."

And that wasn't all that Haney noticed.

"There was a heavy smell of gunpowder in the air," Haney said. "You could actually see it. There was smoke in the air."

With shell casings littering the floor of Petty's living room, Haney said he asked the victim three times who had shot him, where the shooter went and what was he wearing. Haney said he had trouble understanding the first name, but all three times Petty told him the shooter's last name was Houston.

Petty was rushed to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and then to the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo. While Petty was at NFMMC, his brother, Robert Hilson, who shared the Cudaback Avenue home, arrived there.

Hilson testified that he had tried to call Houston a short time earlier because he was concerned that his brother wasn't answering his cell phone. Houston didn't answer Hilson's call either.

However, when Hilson got to Memorial, he saw Houston in a car parked outside the hospital.

"I told (Houston) my brother got shot, but I didn't know anything (else)," Hilson said. "He said to let him know what was going on."

In phone calls during the days that followed the shooting, Hilson said Houston would ask him how his brother was doing and was he "talking." Hilson said Houston and his brother were close friends who were always together.

The Petty shooting is not Houston’s first brush with violence in the Falls. He was released from prison in January 2013 after serving five years of a seven-year term for his conviction in connection with a pair of shootings in 2005 when he was just 17.

In that case, Houston pleaded guilty to both shooting a man in December 2005 and acting as a lookout when another man who was shot during a home invasion in October 2005.