By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT -- A Niagara County Court judge has ruled that the traffic stop of a truck linked to a shooting and the seizure of a small arsenal of weapons was "perfectly legal."
As a result, prosecutors can use all of that evidence and any statements made by Timothy DePetris to a veteran Falls Police detective at his upcoming attempted murder trials.
DePetris' defense had argued that the traffic stop that led to his arrest was illegal and that all the evidence seized as a result should be barred from his trials. Niagara County Court Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas disagreed.
The son of the founder of Electrodyn Choke Corp., DePetris has been charged in two cases that both involve attempts to murder his brother-in-law. He has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree attempted murder, two counts of second-degree attempted murder, two counts of conspiracy and two counts of criminal solicitation in connection with an attempt to hire a hitman, while he was in the Niagara County Jail, to kill his brother-in-law and a witness in the earlier shooting of his relative.
In mid-May, DePetris was charged with attempted first-degree murder, first-degree criminal use of a firearm, three counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, six counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and second-degree criminal trespass in connection with the shooting of his brother-in-law in the early morning hours of March 26.
Farkas previously dismissed six of those charges after finding that they were not included in the New York SAFE Act at the time of DePetris' arrest.
On Friday, Farkas said the stop of a truck that DePetris was riding in, four days after the shooting of his brother-in-law, was permitted because then Falls Police Det. Patrick Stack had information that linked a truck with that description to the shooting incident.
"We have to look at this from the perspective of a seasoned veteran," Farkas said. "He's investigating a shooting ... he developed a suspect ... and a suspect vehicle that was a purple, Dodge Ram."
Stack testified at an earlier hearing that he had been told that DePetris was living, without charge, in a penthouse at Seneca Niagara Casino. The detective said he began to randomly check the casino parking lot for the purple truck.
"Lo and behold, (on March 30) there is a vehicle matching that description in the casino parking lot," Farkas said. "There is nothing illegal about following that vehicle."
Stack also testified that he saw a woman approach the truck, briefly, in a high crime area and witnessed what he believed was a drug transaction. Farkas ruled that was enough reason to then pull the truck over.
"It was perfectly valid under the circumstances," Farkas said.
When the driver of the truck claimed to be "out scrapping" and when Stack questioned him about that claim, DePetris, who was a passenger in the vehicle, intervened.
"Conveniently, Mr. DePetris introduces himself and he's the suspect in the shooting the detective is investigating," Farkas said.
Stack asked DePetris to get out of the truck and "patted him down." It was then that he discovered that DePetris had a loaded, semi-automatic handgun on a string around his neck.
"The stop of the vehicle was legal," Farkas said. "The questions (from Stack) were perfectly appropriate."
A further search of the pick-up revealed what one investigator called an “arsenal.” In addition to the handgun and a bullet clip found in DePetris' jacket pocket, detectives discovered a fully automatic rifle and multiple, loaded ammunition clips in the back seat of the truck.
DePetris is accused of shooting his brother-in-law in the doorway of the victim’s new business in the 2300 block of Hyde Park Boulevard. The 56-year-old victim, who had gone to the door for a pizza delivery, was shot in the upper chest, near his shoulder.