Man pleads not guilty in death of 80-year-old over mask spat

WEST SENECA, N.Y. (AP) — A New York bar patron accused of giving a fatal shove to an 80-year-old man during a confrontation about the need to wear a mask has pleaded not guilty to criminally negligent homicide.

Donald Lewinski, 65, entered a plea of not guilty at a court on Tuesday and was released on his own recognizance, his attorney said.

Rocco Sapienza confronted Lewinski at a bar in West Seneca on Sept. 26 because he was not wearing a mask, Erie County prosecutors said Monday. Lewinski then shoved Sapienza, who fell and struck his head on the floor, District Attorney John Flynn said.

Sapienza was knocked unconscious. He died his injuries Oct. 1, WIVB-TV reported.

As a condition of his release, West Seneca Town Justice Shannon Filbert ordered Lewinski to stay away from Sapienza’s widow, prohibited him from posting about the case on social media, barred him from entering bars or restaurants and prohibited him from possessing any guns.

An attorney for Lewinski, Barry Covert, called Sapienza’s death a tragedy, but said in an email to The Associated Press that “we received witness statements that make it very clear that the victim was the aggressor.”

“I have watched the bar videotape, and it does appear that Mr. Sapienza does come from a different part of the bar to initiate the confrontation with my client, who was at a different section of the bar,” Covert said.

West Seneca is a suburb of Buffalo in western New York.

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