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2 indicted in murder of Chautauqua violinist

MAYVILLE – A Chautauqua County grand jury has issued murder and robbery indictments against two homeless men accused of killing a concert violinist last summer during a robbery in her rural home, District Attorney David W. Foley said.

Not-guilty pleas were entered for Jonathan M. Conklin, 43, and Charles Sanford, 31, at their arraignment Monday in County Court.

Both men already face federal charges related to the killing of Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra violinist Mary E. Whitaker during a robbery Aug. 20 in her summer home on Titus Road in the Town of Sherman, near Westfield.

Whitaker, a New York City resident, was fatally shot inside the home in a crime that shocked the community. The suspects were found in Pennsylvania.

Each suspect faces seven charges: two counts of second-degree murder and single counts of first-degree burglary, first-degree robbery, first-degree criminal use of a firearm, second-degree burglary and fourth-degree grand larceny.

The previous federal indictments of Conklin and Sanford included carjacking and firearm charges.

Foley said he does not know whether the federal or county charges will be prosecuted first. Typically, a County Court trial is held first, Foley said.

The judge set $1 million bail or $2 million bond for both men, and they were remanded to federal custody.

Public Defender Nathaniel L. Barone was assigned to represent Conklin, and Andrew S. Robinson Jr. will be the assigned counsel for Sanford.

Barone said it is too early to determine whether Conklin and Sanford should be tried separately or together.

“It is too early to decide on a motion of severance, and our clock starts ticking on Feb. 23,” Barone said, referring to the date of the first pretrial meeting in the case.

Foley said their trial would be the fourth murder trial in a two-year span for his office.

He called the circumstances of the case similar to what the prosecution faced in the case against Davide Coggins, who was convicted of second-degree murder for the deaths of Gordon and Joyce Skinner of Frewsburg.

“Both cases involved home invasions,” Foley said, and both of them included multiple defendants.