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YOUNGSTOWN Shooter's charges reduced



Published: Sat, August 17, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The victim has gone back to Turkey and can't be located.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A city man charged with attempting to kill a deli owner in a shootout last year was placed on probation this week in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

It was the result of a plea bargain that didn't sit well with Assistant Prosecutor Lori Shells, though she said she had little choice.

"I'm disappointed," she said. "But short of dismissing the whole case, there wasn't much else we could do."

James Brown, 22, of Lyden Avenue, was charged with attempted murder, felonious assault and aggravated robbery after he shot 30-year-old Erjeng Sayeste twice in the abdomen in May 2001. Sayeste was owner of the Point Cafe on Lincoln Avenue.

Defense attorney Diane Vettori said Brown thought he was being shot at by Sayeste, so he pulled his gun and returned fire.

"It was a misunderstanding between two people," Brown said. "I wasn't thinking right, and I got caught up in the heat of the moment."

Shells said Sayeste did have a gun and fired at Brown. The question was which one of them fired first, she said. Police determined it was Brown, and he was the only one charged.

Critical testimony

But before the case could go to trial, Sayeste returned to his native country of Turkey. Shells said he went back to fulfill a two-year military obligation.

Authorities have used the Red Cross, the U.S. State Department and the Turkish Embassy to try to locate Sayeste so he could return to testify at trial. No one has been able to find him, though, and Shells said there were no leads.

"And even if we could find him, he probably would not come back voluntarily," she said.

Because there are no other witnesses, Sayeste's testimony is critical at trial.

Rather than dismiss the case altogether, Shells agreed to reduce the attempted murder charge to aggravated assault, which means Brown acted while under a sudden fit of rage or extreme provocation. He pleaded guilty and was placed on one year's probation by Judge Jack Durkin.

The judge could have imposed a sentence of up to 18 months in prison, but Ohio law would require him to give Brown credit for the 15 months he's spent in the county jail awaiting trial.

As part of the plea agreement, the charges of felonious assault and aggravated robbery were dismissed.

bjackson@vindy.com




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