MURDER SUSPECT WANTS CASE BEFORE GRAND JURY

Man says witnesses will clear him in killing at private Albany nightclub

JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Tuesday, November 10, 2009

COLONIE -- Ronald Wright says he heard the shot that killed Ondrell Daniels on the dance floor of a private Central Avenue club in the wee hours of May 30.


But Wright, a parolee from Nassau County on Long Island, is adamant he did not fire the bullet -- and he claims to have five witnesses who will testify to that.


Nonetheless, Wright, 31, has been in the Albany County jail since June 13. He's charged with second-degree murder in connection with the shooting of Daniels at the Broadway Club -- a slaying about which authorities have said very little publicly.


"It is well-known in the streets that I did not commit this crime," Wright said Monday in an interview at jail, where he is to be married today. "I am being wrongfully accused."


Wright, with the support of his attorney, David Ehrlich, has taken the rather unorthodox position of asking the Albany County district attorney's office to present his case to a grand jury.


Ehrlich, however, contends prosecutors have refused to do so and have allowed Wright to stew at the jail for nearly five months despite compelling evidence that another man -- who is also already incarcerated at the Colonie facility -- not Wright, was the shooter.


Ehrlich said both police and prosecutors are aware of the man's name, though he declined to share it publicly.


In a statement, District Attorney David Soares' office said it would litigate the case "in the court of law, not in the court of public opinion through the media."


Chief Assistant District Attorney David Rossi declined to discuss the details of the case but added via e-mail more proof is required before a jury than is required for police to make an arrest.


"I will not present a case to a grand jury until I am confident that I can obtain a conviction at trial," Rossi said, "where the burden of proof is much higher."


Ehrlich also declined to identify the five eyewitnesses whose names he's furnished prosecutors in support of Wright. Prosecutors would be required to tell grand jurors that Wright would like them to hear from those witnesses, Ehrlich said.


Under normal circumstances, after 45 days with no action by prosecutors, Ehrlich could have filed a writ of habeas corpus to have Wright freed pending grand jury action.


But the case is complicated by Wright's status as a parolee.


Wright was paroled in February after serving nearly four years for an attempted drug sale, according to an online database of state prison records.


Even if Ehrlich filed a writ to have Wright freed, he would still likely be held on several parole violations stemming both directly and indirectly from his arrest in connection with Daniels' murder.


One of the allegations is that Wright left Long Island without permission. But another, that he was rearrested for murder, could prompt an administrative law judge to send him back to prison for much longer than just a few months -- possibly until 2012, the duration of his parole.


A final hearing on the alleged travel violation has been delayed at Ehrlich's request, he said, in hopes that Wright will be able to clear himself of the murder charge in the interim, leaving just the lesser allegations that he traveled without permission, broke curfew and failed to report contact with law enforcement, among other things.


"It shouldn't be his responsibility to prove his innocence," said Ehrlich, a former county prosecutor. "In Ronald's case, it really is a case of justice delayed being justice denied."


In the interview, Wright acknowledged having been in the Broadway Club when Daniels was shot but said he didn't know Daniels, wasn't the gunman and fled -- like many of the 150 to 200 other crammed into the shadowy party spot with a checkered past -- when the shot rang out.


"All I heard was a shot, and I ran out," said Wright, who declined to say what he was doing in Albany or how long he had been in the city.


In the weeks after the shooting, the State Liquor Authority suspended the club's liquor license, held by Butler Hampton Inc., after concluding that club officials tried to cover up evidence of the crime, including scrubbing blood and throwing away a shell casing -- potentially key evidence later recovered by police.


Club employees didn't contact police about the shooting, and Daniels, 33, of Livingston Avenue, was taken by private car to the hospital, where he died.


Wright -- who like Daniels has two children -- was charged based on the accounts of three eyewitnesses, according to a felony complaint filed in City Court.


Alice Green, executive director of the Center for Law & Justice, is also weighing in on the delay, questioning why prosecutors have sat on the case.


"No one should be sitting out at the jail for five months without the wheels turning here somewhat," Green said.


As evidence of his clear conscience, Wright offers the fact that he visited his parole officer on Long Island in the days after the murder. Carole Weaver, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Parole, confirmed that Wright made his appointments on May 12 and 26 and June 9.


Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com.