SYRACUSE, N.Y. - A 16-year-old admitted Thursday that he was the sniper who gunned down a city worker outside the victim's home in January, but he offered no explanation for the crime.
Shawn Rhines pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Onondaga County Court for killing 47-year-old Casimir Snyder, who was getting into his car when he was hit in the neck by a bullet fired from an attic window across the street.
Rhines and a friend, Ja-Le Johnson, told investigators they would often hang out in the attic of the house where Johnson's brother lived and shoot target practice with rifles. With his parents looking on, Rhines admitted under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Melinda McGunnigle that he intentionally shot at Snyder.
"They didn't have any kind of beef with Mr. Snyder. He just happened to walk out of his house at the same time Rhines happened to pull the trigger," McGunnigle said.
Rhines, who was 15 at the time of the crime and charged as a juvenile offender, was promised a sentence of no worse than 10 years to life in state prison. The judge could give a sentence as low as 7 1/2 years to life. The maximum sentence for murder for a juvenile offender is 15 years to life. Sentencing was set for May 7.
"We had a very strong case against him ... so I think that's the reason for the guilty plea," McGunnigle said. "The family is obviously happy that the defendant admitted his guilt, but obviously nothing will ever bring their father back."
Implicated by fingerprints
Defense attorney Christina Cagnina said the case was resolved quickly because Rhines was sorry for what happened and wanted to take responsibility.
"He did not want this to go on and the families to struggle through this," Cagnina said.
Snyder, an employee with Syracuse's public works department, was getting into his car to go pick his wife up from work when he was hit by a single shot in the neck on Jan. 4. He was able to get back into his house to tell his four children he'd been shot and to call police. He then lost consciousness and died less than an hour later.
Johnson, also 16, was originally charged with Snyder's murder after he falsely confessed to police that he was the gunman. But Rhines surrendered to police two days later and confessed he fired the shot. Investigators verified Rhines' account through fingerprint and ballistics evidence.
Prosecutors said they don't know why Johnson lied. He faces criminal facilitation, hindering prosecution, perjury and weapon-possession charges. The criminal facilitation charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
At the time of the crime, Johnson was living with his brother in the house where the fatal gunshot was fired. Johnson's brother has not been charged.