Police say botched robbery cause of murder
WESTFIELD, N.Y. (AP) – Two men were arrested Friday in the fatal shooting of an orchestra musician during a robbery in her western New York home, authorities said.
Jonathan Conklin and Charles Sanford are accused of killing Mary Whitaker, 61, Wednesday in rural Westfield, where she lived for the summer while playing violin with the Chautauqua Institution’s Symphony Orchestra.
Whitaker died of a gunshot wound to the chest but also was shot in the leg. Investigators believe her killers may have been trying to force her to give them information or valuables when she was shot, Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace said during a news conference Friday.
“We don’t know if she ever did,” he said, “but they stole her vehicle, which was recovered Thursday morning.”
The car was found by police in nearby Erie, Pennsylvania, where both suspects were arrested separately, Gerace said.
Conklin, 43, became a suspect early on, the sheriff said, because he already was wanted for grand larceny and was believed to be in the area. He was seen on video trying to use Whitaker’s credit card after the shooting, Gerace said.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul said Conklin and Sanford, 30, whose last known address was in Erie, would face federal charges of carjacking, using a gun during a felony and bringing stolen property across state lines.
A grand jury will consider state murder charges, Chautauqua County District Attorney David Foley said. It was unknown Friday evening if the suspects had lawyers.
Whitaker performed with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra during summers and the downstate Westchester Philharmonic the rest of the year while living in New York City. The Chautauqua orchestra had wrapped up its season the day before Whitaker was killed.
The Westchester orchestra paid tribute to her on its website, saying she had been with the group for at least 27 years.
“A true and caring friend and an exquisite artist, Mary was loved and admired for her gentleness yet strength, her wisdom, enthusiasm, and generous soul,” the tribute said. “We miss her terribly. May she rest in peace.”