A man now serving a state prison sentence for attempted assault was arraigned Tuesday in the April 2010 killing of a Schenectady man whom family members described as a “gentle soul.”
John Wakefield, 46, appeared in Schenectady County Court for arraignment on a charge of first-degree murder in the killing of Brett Wentworth inside Wentworth’s apartment on Wendell Avenue. He is accused of killing Wentworth in the course of a robbery, strangling him with a ligature, according to Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney.
The two men knew each other prior to the incident, with Wentworth apparently letting Wakefield into the apartment at 1019 Wendell Ave., Carney said.
With his court-appointed attorney, Steve Signore, next to him, Wakefield pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder charge, as well as two other second-degree murder counts and two counts of first-degree robbery. If convicted of the top count of first-degree murder, Wakefield would face life in prison without parole.
At the Tuesday afternoon arraignment, at least eight members of Wentworth’s family, including his mother, Barbara Conary, and sister Margaret Messer, wore pins displaying Wentworth’s photo. Later, Messer recounted the long two years since her brother’s killing. On behalf of the family, she thanked all those who helped, including city and state police.
Family members had expressed hope throughout that police would find Wentworth’s killer. The pins they wore to court Tuesday said just that, with the words “We have hope” printed under Wentworth’s picture.
“We’re very grateful that this happened today,” Messer said later.
Wakefield was brought in to court from Green Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, where he is serving 2 to 4 years on a second-degree attempted assault conviction in an unrelated case, records show. He appeared in a prison-green winter jacket, his arms cuffed to his waist so he could put his hands in his jacket pockets.
Wentworth, 41, was found dead April 12, 2010. The indictment, though, places his killing the day before. Carney revealed the cause of death Tuesday.
Carney credited “dogged police work” in bringing the case to an indictment. At different points, the investigation was headed by then-police Capt. Peter Frisoni, then-Det. John DiGesualdo and current Det. Matt Haskins.
“Each one of them advanced the case along the way,” Carney said.
Carney also credited the state police Major Crimes Unit and “extensive forensic analysis” by the state police laboratory. The case is to be prosecuted by Peter Willis.
The April 11 date when Wentworth was killed falls in a five-day window when Wakefield was free from jail, a place where he spent much of that year.
Wakefield was booked into the jail March 8, staying until April 9, when he was bonded out, jail records show. He faced a series of charges around that time, including first-degree menacing and second-degree assault, accused of stabbing a man in the hand on Front Street early on Jan. 1 that year. He was formally charged with that crime in March.
Wakefield is now accused of killing Wentworth two days after his release. Wakefield then returned to jail April 14, staying through September. The return to jail coincided with a new charge of possession of stolen property.
Wakefield was ultimately sent to prison in the assault case, pleading guilty to felony attempted assault.
Up for parole in November 2011, Wakefield was denied. In a testy parole hearing where commissioners repeatedly cited him for talking too fast and not answering their questions, they cited a criminal record that dates back to 1987 and includes assaults, reckless endangerment, weapons possession and other convictions.
Speaking of the January 2010 incident involving the stabbing, Wakefield told commissioners he turned himself in that night, though no charges were initially lodged.
“They didn’t know who I was. There were no cameras in there. I probably wouldn’t be sitting here,” Wakefield told the board, according to a transcript released Tuesday to The Daily Gazette. “I turned myself in because I felt bad about it.”
Wentworth suffered from schizophrenia, his mother said. Family members have described him 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.
Wentworth family members have worked with police since his death, hoping anyone with information would come forward. In December 2010, they held a news conference at the police station and handed out fliers at places where police believed it might be useful, including a six- to eight-block area around Wentworth’s apartment and places with easy bus access from the neighborhood.
The family and police also announced a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Wentworth‘s killer. It was not clear if the reward played a role in Tuesday’s indictment.