Niagara Gazette

October 3, 2012

Plea appeal denied

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT -- A Niagara County Court judge has rejected the request of a convicted killer to withdraw his guilty plea in the murder of a Niagara University student.

Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas, in a sometimes sharply worded decision, wrote that Cordero Gibson thought he could "dupe" her into giving him the opportunity to back out of a plea deal with prosecutors in the slaying of Brandon Johnson. 

Gibson, who had been charged with second-degree murder, has pleaded guilty to a single count of first-degree manslaughter in the case.

"The defendant thinks he is savvy and able to dupe this court into believing that he was confused (when he took his plea deal) and received ineffective assistance of counsel. That is not the case," Farkas wrote. "It is now implausible (after a day long hearing on Aug. 29) to believe that the defendant did not understand the plea and sentence. His representation was not ineffective."

Farkas suggested that Gibson wanted to change his plea because he was having second thoughts about his admission of guilt and the 18 year prison term he was facing.

"It is clear to the court that the defendant has buyer's remorse," the judge said in her ruling. "The motion and affidavit submitted have no basis in fact and are an attempt to manipulate this court into allowing the defendant to withdraw his plea without a real basis to do so."

During the Aug. 29 hearing in front of Farkas, Gibson claimed he had "learning disabilities," "didn't understand" his plea, had only briefly discussed it with his defense attorney and was in a "state of shock" the day he took the deal because his mother had been in a car accident on her way to the courthouse. 

Gibson's new defense attorney, Dominic Saraceno, told Farkas his client just wanted "his day in court."

However prosecutors said Gibson had his chance to make his case and decided instead to take their deal for his role in a robbery gone bad that left Johnson dead.

Gibson's former defense lawyer, Michael Deal, even testified that he was prepared to take Gibson's case to a jury.

"My advice to him (based on my understanding of the evidence in the case) was to accept the plea," Deal said. "But the other part of my advice was that if he wanted a trial, we would give him the best possible trial we could."

Farkas said she could find nothing wrong with Deal's representation of Gibson.

"This court finds that Mike Deal, in fact, did everything possible to get his client the best deal, even though his client was working against him," Farkas wrote.

Under his current guilty plea, Farkas has agreed to cap Gibson's potential prison term at 18 years. He faces a minimum of five years behind bars.

Gibson's co-defendant, Gordon Jackson, has already been sentenced to 21 years to life for his guilty plea to a single-count of second-degree murder.

The pair were charged with gunning down Johnson, 20, a Rochester native and NU student, in a University Court apartment.

At the time of the shooting, investigators said Johnson was visiting a friend and fellow NU student who lived in the off-campus apartment. Gibson was reportedly acquainted with the resident of the apartment.

Investigators said that after being driven to the apartment by Gibson, Jackson attempted to rob Johnson and the resident of the apartment, when “something happened” and the teen fired a single shot from a sawed-off shotgun. The blast struck Johnson and killed him.

Prosecutors had contended that Gibson knew Jackson intended to rob the people inside the apartment on the day of the shooting.