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Sentencing delayed for men who pled guilty in Westfield murder

March 3, 2016
By A.J. Rao ( , Westfield Republican

MAYVILLE - The fate of two men linked to the death of Westfield resident and accomplished violinist Mary E. Whitaker will remain unknown for a little longer.

According to Patrick Swanson, Chautauqua County district attorney, 44-year-old Jonathan Conklin and 31-year-old Charles Sanford will appear in Chautauqua County Court on March 10 to receive a new sentencing date.

Sanford was originally scheduled for sentencing Monday and Conklin for March 10.

The adjournment was mostly due to procedural issues, Swanson said, particularly the need to have the defendants' federal and state sentencing dates closer together.

Late last year, Conklin and Sanford pleaded guilty in county court to second-degree murder. They face a potential 25 years to life and 15 years to life in state prison, respectively.

In October, both men appeared in the U.S. District Court in Buffalo and pleaded guilty to federal charges - illegally possessing a firearm for Sanford and carjacking for Conklin. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both.

Whitaker, the 61-year-old concert violinist who regularly performed with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, was found dead inside her 8448 Titus Road home on Aug. 20, 2014, after what police referred to as an attempted burglary turned deadly.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Lynch, Conklin and Sanford, both homeless men with criminal records, approached Whitaker's home shortly before 7 a.m., where they reportedly concocted a ruse to get inside.

Sanford, he said, knocked on Whitaker's door and asked to use the phone, while Conklin hid outside with a gun. When Whitaker obliged to the request, she was shot and killed by Conklin, Lynch said.

The two men then stole Whitaker's 2007 Chevy HHR and used her credit cards at various businesses in Erie, Pa., police said.

They were arrested separately two days later after the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office, with the assistance of the FBI and Erie Police Department, tracked their credit card activity and identified Conklin on a store security camera.

Initial state charges included second-degree murder, first-degree burglary, first-degree robbery, first-degree criminal use of a firearm, second-degree burglary and fourth-degree grand larceny.

Initial federal charges included carjacking, using a gun during a violent crime and bringing a stolen vehicle across state lines.



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