By Jessica Bagley firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — A day after the body of Vincent James Cottone was found in his Kenmore home, accused killer Antonio Martin-Brown admitted he stole a check from the victim, police said Wednesday at a pretrial hearing.
Martin-Brown, 20, who has been charged with second-degree murder and petit larceny, sat quietly throughout the proceedings and solemnly nodded to family in attendance. Brown allegedly killed Cottone, 62, the owner of Malone’s Bar and Grill on May 19. Police said Cottone died of blunt force injuries.
During Wednesday’s hearing on the admissibility of statements Martin-Brown made to police, Detective Joseph Vacanti said Cottone had reported a stolen check before his death. Vacanti identified the defendant based on photographs from an M&T Bank, where Martin-Brown cashed the $800 check.
On May 20, the day after Cottone was killed, Vacanti said he and another detective went to Martin-Brown’s home in Buffalo to ask him to come in for questioning about the theft. The defendant agreed, and later at the station, Martin-Brown admitted to stealing the check, Vacanti said.
Defense attorney Andrew LoTempio suggested that detectives deceived Martin-Brown into voluntarily coming in for questioning about the homicide — and not just petit larceny.
“He only agreed to come in to talk about the check — because that is all you provided him with,” LoTempio said to Vacanti Wednesday.
“Picking him up on the check wasn’t just a ruse?”
Vacanti repeatedly denied he planned or knew about anyone’s intentions to discuss the homicide with Martin-Brown.
After Vacanti was finished speaking to Martin-Brown about the theft, a criminal investigator with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, Mark Stambach, reported to the police station to speak to the defendant about the homicide.
Stambach said he had received a call from Erie County District Attorney Homicide Bureau Chief James Bargnesi, who asked him to assist in questioning Martin-Brown about the killing.
Stambach testified that he reviewed the Miranda rights with Martin-Brown, which Vacanti had previously administered, and asked him to complete a cheek swab for DNA testing.
Stambach then asked Martin-Brown about the homicide.
“He said, ‘I don’t know anything about the death,’ “ Stambach said.
In his statements to authorities, Martin-Brown acknowledged he had some sort of relationship with Cottone, and had been to his house several times. Cottone never locked his doors and didn’t use a key, Martin-Brown said.
Stambach said he began accusing Martin-Brown of killing Cottone during a second round of questioning. Then, after Stambach asked the defendant to take a polygraph test, the defendant requested an attorney, and the questioning was stopped.
Kenmore police then charged him with petit larceny for stealing the check. Martin-Brown wasn’t charged in connection with the killing until early June, when he turned himself in to authorities.
Prosecutor Gary Hackbush and LoTempio will submit written arguments to the court on Wednesday’s hearing over the next few months, and State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia will then rule on the admissibility of the statements.
LoTempio also told Buscaglia that he plans to obtain Cottone’s phone records for the five weeks leading up to the homicide.
A trial date has been set for early February.
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.