John Wakefield was found guilty Friday of first-degree murder in the April 2010 choking death of a city man.
Wakefield gave little reaction when the verdict was read. Family members of the man Wakefield killed, 41-year-old Brett Wentworth, wept in the courtroom gallery.
It was a verdict they’d waited nearly five years to hear.
“I’m ecstatic,” Wentworth’s mother, Barbara Conary, said immediately after the proceedings. “My Brett has justice. He has justice.”
The first-degree murder conviction means Wakefield faces up to life without parole at his May sentencing. He faces a minimum of 25 years to life.
It also means the jury agreed with the prosecution’s argument that Wakefield killed the man in the course of a robbery. The jury convicted Wakefield after about six hours of deliberations.
Prosecutors contended Wakefield killed Wentworth in the midst of a drug binge, killing and stealing to get his next high.
Wentworth was found dead April 12, 2010. Prosecutors believe he was killed the day before, choked to death by Wakefield with an amplifier cord.
Charges weren’t filed against Wakefield until November 2012 as investigators gathered evidence. He was in custody in the meantime on unrelated charges. The trial was delayed in part as prosecutors sought and won the right to use a new type of DNA technology.
Authorities credited dogged police work over the five years since Wentworth’s death, chasing down leads and uncovering three people to whom Wakefield admitted all or portions of the crime.
Prosecutor Peter Willis, who worked the case with fellow prosecutor Kevin Cheung, argued to the jury that the evidence taken together was overwhelming.
“It was the culmination of nearly five years of investigation,” Willis said.
At different points, the investigation was headed by then-police Capt. Peter Frisoni, then-Det. John DiGesualdo and Det. Matt Haskins.
Wakefield was represented by attorneys Frederick Rench and Catherine Bonventre.
Rench said later that they are disappointed with the verdict and believe prosecutors failed to prove their case.
An appeal is expected, he said. Central to that appeal will be the new DNA technology. It was allowed after Judge Michael Coccoma ruled it admissible, a first-in-the-state ruling.
The new technology changed the chances that Wakefield’s DNA was found on the victim and murder weapon from low to extremely high.
Family members have described Wentworth as someone who didn’t have much, but would save up what he had to ensure he was able to get family members something when the holidays came around. He was the father of a daughter, who lives with family in Connecticut. She was 11 when her father was killed.
Wentworth family members worked with police in the months and years after his death. In December 2010, they held a news conference at the police station and handed out fliers at places where police believed they might be useful. Local union members helped spread the word.
Authorities credited those efforts with uncovering one of the three men to whom Wakefield confessed.
Among the Wentworth family members in the gallery was his sister Margaret Messer. She thanked all those involved. “It’s been a long five years,” she said.