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Press Release

Man Pleads Guilty In Connection With Murder In Chautauqua County

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of New York

CONTACT:      Barbara Burns
PHONE:         (716) 843-5817
FAX:            (716) 551-3051

BUFFALO, N.Y. – U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced today Charles Sanford, 31, pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm before Senior U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both.
"This case began with senseless and cowardly actions which took the life of one who gave so much to our community,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul. “With today's conviction, both defendants responsible for this conduct will now face a very long time in prison. While we unfortunately cannot bring back a woman whose life was dedicated to bringing beauty to the world through music, at the very least we can say we utilized our justice system as a form of deep respect and appreciation for Mary's life.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy C. Lynch, who is handling the case, stated that Sanford and co-defendant Jonathan Conklin robbed Mary Whitaker inside her Sherman, NY home on August 20, 2014. At the time, Sanford and Conklin had been living outdoors for several days after a friend drove them from Erie, Pennsylvania to the Sherman, NY area.
At approximately 7:30 a.m., the two men, armed with weapons including a knife and a .22 caliber rifle, approached the victim’s home and Sanford rang the doorbell. Mary Whitaker answered the door and Sanford asked to use her phone, claiming that his car had run out of gas. Whitaker went into the house to get her cell phone for Sanford to use. When she returned, she gave the cell phone to Sanford who proceeded to use it. As Sanford did, Conklin came up from behind and told Whitaker this was a robbery. After she screamed, Conklin shot and killed her with the .22 caliber rifle.
Conklin and Sanford then stole the victim’s vehicle and drove it to Erie, Pennsylvania where they were arrested on August 22, 2014.
Jonathan Conklin has been convicted of carjacking and is scheduled to be sentenced on March 9, 2016. Charles Sanford will be sentenced on March 9, 2016 at 3:00 p.m.
The plea is the culmination of an investigation on the part of the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Sheriff Joseph A. Gerace, the Chautauqua County District Attorney’s Office, under the direction of District Attorney David W. Foley, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the City of Erie (Pennsylvania) Police Department, under the direction of Chief Randy M. Bowers.

Updated October 29, 2015