The 70-year-old man attacked Saturday in a 7-Eleven parking lot has died, police say, and now authorities will press for murder charges against the man held in connection with the reportedly unprovoked and motiveless beating.
"It is just one of those cases that makes us all shake our heads and try to understand why and how someone would do this to one of the most vulnerable in our community," Syracuse (N.Y.) Sgt. Tom Connellan tells WSYR-TV.
James Gifford was attacked at 6:08 a.m. Saturday shortly after exiting the convenience store with a can of soup, soft drink, newspaper, and doughnuts, reports Syracuse.com.
Romeo Williams, 18, was with four other males when he lunged out and struck Gifford in the 7-Eleven parking lot, knocking him unconscious, WSYR reports. Police say Williams then entered the store where he celebrated the attack and then returned to the parking lot and kicked Gifford multiple times. According to police, the people who were with Williams pulled him away from the unconscious man.
Gifford was being treated at Upstate University Hospital for “very serious” injuries before dying Wednesday, Syracuse.com reports, adding that friends have described Gifford as a gentle man whose life was built around his neighborhood, his church, and service.
Gifford's family was in Texas and didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. "We're all very sad about that because we know that they wanted to get here so that he was not alone," Connellan said.
Williams was charged Monday with second-degree assault as well as gun charges and was being held without bail. With Gifford's death, a grand jury will now consider homicide charges against Williams, says Rick Trunfio, Onondaga County's first chief assistant district attorney, Syracuse.com notes.
Police have identified several of the men who were with Williams during the attack, WSYR says, but no one else has been charged. Williams has 14 prior arrests on his record, including three felonies and an August arrest for criminal possession of a weapon, police say.
The court was looking for another attorney to represent Williams Wednesday after the first one refused, WSYR reports.
"We're going to do our job to make sure that we're going to put together the absolute best possible case that we can, to make sure that Romeo Williams goes to jail and goes to jail for a very long time," Connellan tells WSYR.
The community in Syracuse has reportedly rallied after the senseless attack and people are calling for an end to the violence.
“That’s a selfless, defenseless man, and he’s the most vulnerable in our community, and when you take advantage of the most vulnerable in our community, the community is not going to stay silent about it. So it strikes the ire of everyone across this city,” People’s AME Zion Church Pastor Daren Jaime said.
Here's a report from WSYR: