The man accused of killing Wendell Avenue resident Brett Wentworth in April 2010 did so in the midst of a four-day drug binge, stealing and — in Wentworth’s case — killing to get his next high, according to a new prosecution account in the case.
John Wakefield, 47, appeared in Schenectady County Court Tuesday for a pre-trial conference in his case. In the conference, Visiting Judge Michael V. Coccoma set Feb. 24 as the date for the start of Wakefield’s trial.
Wentworth, 41, was found dead April 12, 2010. He is believed to have been killed the day before. Wakefield wasn’t charged in the killing until more than two years later, in November 2013. Prosecutors say dogged police work led to the arrest.
The prosecution’s theory was laid out in a recent pre-trial motion, and it centers around Wakefield’s alleged drug addiction.
“The Defendant’s motive for robbing and intentionally killing Brett was his need to finance and feed his intense addiction to crack cocaine,” the filing by prosecutor Peter Willis reads.
Wentworth family members, who have described Wentworth as a “gentle soul,” attended Wakefield’s court appearance Tuesday.
Wakefield faces as much as life in prison without parole if convicted of first-degree murder. He is accused of strangling Wentworth with a ligature in the course of a robbery. He has pleaded not guilty and is represented by attorney Fred Rench.
The date on which Wentworth was killed fell within a five-day window in which Wakefield was free from jail, a place where Wakefield spent much of that year.
Wakefield was booked into the jail March 8, 2010, and stayed until April 9, when he was bonded out, jail records show. He then returned to jail April 14.
The prosecution’s filing details Wakefield’s alleged movements during that time. He was at Wentworth’s apartment with others about 24 hours before the killing.
Why Wentworth had Wakefield and others at his apartment was not disclosed in papers. Willis did say Tuesday there has never been any indication Wentworth used drugs.
Following his visit to Wentworth’s, Wakefield was spotted by a city police officer with a lawn mower that was later reported stolen, the filing alleges. Willis says in the filing that Wakefield is believed to have sold the lawn mower for money to buy crack cocaine.
Later that evening, Wakefield was allegedly dropped off by a friend at a crack house on Albany Street. But Wakefield had no money to buy crack, the filing says. It was then that he allegedly returned to Wentworth’s apartment and strangled him with a cord from a guitar amp.
Wakefield then allegedly stole electronics and other property from Wentworth’s apartment. A witness said he saw Wakefield back at the crack house with a bag known to belong to Wentworth. Wakefield often traded items there for crack cocaine, the witness said.
Wakefield also admitted to a witness he killed a man on Wendell Avenue in a manner similar to the way in which Wentworth was killed, according to the filing.
Exactly how much of Wakefield’s alleged drug use will be admissible at trial is still to be determined. Willis is expected to submit further arguments to Coccoma on the issue prior to trial.
Also to be determined is whether a new type of DNA evidence will be available to prosecutors at the trial. A hearing on that issue is expected to take place in December.
Wakefield remains in custody, serving a state prison sentence in an unrelated case.