Men suspected of killing musician held without bail

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Two suspects accused of killing a musician in the Southern Tier faced a judge in Buffalo, Thursday morning, who ordered them held without bail.

Jonathan Conklin, 43, and Charles Sanford, 30, are facing federal charges in connection with the murder of 61-year-old Mary Whitaker at her vacation home in Westfield.

Government prosecutors claim Sanford rang Whitaker’s door bell to say he ran out of gas. While Sanford made phony calls using Whitaker’s phone, Conklin allegedly jumped out and told her she was being robbed.

“They used a ruse to get her to answer the door,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Lynch outside of court.

Court documents indicate Whitaker screamed, as Conklin pointed a rifle at her, and that’s when prosecutors suspect Conklin shot her.

“It is alleged that Mr. Conklin shot Miss Whitaker in the torso. Later on after a struggle, she was shot again in the leg, and then she was subsequently stabbed in the neck,” said Lynch.

Whitaker put up a fight and attempted to grab the gun, leading to the gunshot in the leg, added Lynch.

Prosecutors asked for both men to be remanded without bail and Federal Magistrate Judge Kenneth Schroeder ruled in favor of it.

Lynch asked for a preliminary hearing to be adjourned so evidence can be presented to the grand jury. A preliminary hearing is set for September 9 at 10 a.m. If the grand jury indicts them on charges before that date, the hearing will be waived.

Lynch said, “Today in court I suggested that there were, both of them made statements to police, and that they somewhat implicated each other in the more serious parts of the crime.”

Mark Mahoney, appointed council for Sanford, said, “We have just been given some disks this morning, from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I haven’t had a chance to review them yet. Ordinarily prosecutors aren’t supposed to be saying they have a ‘confession,’ but of course the complaint does recite some statements.”

Conklin and Sanford are being held on charges of carjacking, the illegal use of a firearm in the commission of the carjacking, and transporting a stolen vehicle – all felonies. But prosecutors say, if a grand jury finds sufficient aggravating circumstances, they could qualify this as a death penalty case.

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