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N.Y. man gets 45 years in attempted murder

September 22, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

Nikki James was hoping to get a new trial on his attempted murder conviction Wednesday but instead, the New York native was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

"I maintain my innocence," James told Washington County Circuit Judge Kennedy Boone after the motion was denied and the sentence was imposed. "I will appeal."

A Washington County Circuit jury in July convicted James, 27, of attempted second-degree murder and seven other charges in the Jan. 12, 1998, shooting on Jonathan Street.

Boone imposed the maximum 30-year sentence for attempted murder and added 15 years for using a handgun in a crime of violence.

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Additional sentences for assaults and reckless endangerment were merged or imposed concurrently.

"This was just another incident of violence in a HotSpot area ... the drug trade ... guns," Boone said. "Neighbors are living in fear."

James sought to void the jury's verdicts, saying they didn't have enough evidence to convict him.

The victim, Kurrian Tyshon Grasty, now 19, recovered from four gunshot wounds from a 9mm handgun. The weapon was never found.

The prosecution's case was hampered because Grasty was serving time in a New Jersey prison and could not testify at the trial.

Now free, Grasty wrote a letter describing the impact the shooting had on his life, according to Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Joe Michael.

The only witness who identified James as the shooter was Grasty's cousin, Timothy Nealy, who testified he was standing 5 feet from his cousin that night around 7 p.m. when he heard four shots.

Other witnesses - former Bester Elementary School Principal William Wright and Hagerstown Fire Department Battalion Chief Ron Horn - testified they saw a man fire a gun and another man fall to the ground as they sat in their vehicles at the traffic light at Jonathan and Church streets.

Neither could definitely identify James as the shooter, a point that defense attorney Steve Kessell reiterated Wednesday in his unsuccessful motion for a new trial.

James has been in custody since he was charged with the crime in January, more than a year after the shooting.

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