BUFFALO, N.Y. – The high school dropout accused of fatally shooting four people outside a downtown bar insists he has never fired a gun in his life, despite past weapons charges, his lawyer said Thursday.
Riccardo McCray, looking solemn and surrounded by guards, pleaded not guilty to four counts of second-degree murder, a day after he surrendered to authorities at a local television station; no bail was set.
Relatives and friends had heard police were looking for him and asked a community activist to persuade him to turn himself in rather than run, said the activist, Darnell Jackson.
McCray, 23, is accused of opening fire on a crowd outside the City Grill early Aug. 14. Some of the victims were part of a group attending a prelude to a wedding anniversary celebration. Four people were killed and four were wounded.
Prosecutor James Bargnesi declined to provide a possible motive and said the case was headed to a grand jury. "We expect this to be a continually evolving investigation," he said outside the courtroom.
McCray, who was in special education programs before quitting high school, appeared shocked that anyone believes he is the gunman, his lawyer said.
"He comes across as very soft-spoken, easygoing, with a kind of deer-in-the headlights appearance — shocked that there would be any real identification of him with regard to him having any type of motive to have engaged in this heinous conduct," attorney Terrence McKelvey said.
"He even went so far as to say, 'Look, I'll take a lie detector test. I've never shot a gun in my life,'" McKelvey said.
McCray told his lawyer the only weapons he has ever fired were for paint ball and laser tag.
He was arrested last year on charges of having a loaded rifle in his car. Officers investigating a report of shots fired said they came upon McCray changing a flat tire, noticed several bullet holes in the rear and driver's side of the vehicle and spotted the rifle on the front seat.
He was arrested in April on felony drug and weapons charges, along with some other men. McCray spent four days in jail. One of the other men arrested in April was labeled a person of interest in the City Grill shootings and later arrested on unrelated charges, another was questioned in the shootings and released.
The suspect has a 1-year-old son and recently split up with the mother, McCray's godmother, Ruth Turner, said. He worked in a factory for a while but lost the job, apparently for tardiness.
McCray was well-mannered and quiet as a child but "a little slow in high school," Turner recalled.
"If he did this I'd really be shocked," she said, her eyes brimming. "Honest. I'm serious. It's hard for me to believe. It's very hurtful."
McCray had been invited to the City Grill by a member of the wedding party, McKelvey said.
The restaurant's managers, reacting to a dispute, had decided to close early and told patrons to leave. One witness said about 200 people crowded onto the sidewalk, some trying to quell a shoving match in a parking lot.
Among the dead is 30-year-old Danyell Mackin, who was celebrating his first anniversary with his wife, Tanisha, who was not injured. They were originally from Buffalo and lived in Austin, Texas. Also killed were Tiffany Wilhite, 32; Shawntia McNeil, 27; and Willie McCaa, 26.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said at a news conference Wednesday evening that McCray was the only suspect and that "we believe we have a very solid case." He asked that the media not publish pictures of the suspect and said he couldn't comment on McCray's background or other aspects of the investigation.
Despite more than 100 witnesses, people have been reluctant to come forward.
"I was surprised that they caught him, because it's been so long," said 27-year-old Tillman Ward, who was injured in the shooting.