Trial begins in drug-connected Mount Vernon slaying

UPDATE: WILKINSON WAS FOUND GUILTY OF ALL CHARGES AND WILL BE SENTENCED ON MARCH 29.

A man accused of taking part in the robbery and killing of a suspected Mount Vernon drug dealer two years ago went on trial for the crime in Westchester County Court this morning.

A jury of eight men and four women will decide if 27-year-old Keith Wilkinson (left) aided and abetted in the fatal shooting of 38-year-old Leaton Burke in January 2009. Prosecutors are not saying that Wilkinson was the shooter, but are arguing that he is equally guilty under the law because he “acted in concert” with others who killed Burke and beat up Burke’s roommate.

Burke, who was shot once in the head, execution style, at his home at 613 S. 10th Ave. on Jan. 27, 2009.  After finding Burke mortally wounded, Mount Vernon police searched his apartment and found 5 pounds of marijuana worth about $20,000 and a loaded illegal handgun.

Burke’s 55-year-old roommate, Fernando Cofressi, told police that he stepped outside of the home for a cigarette that night and was grabbed by two masked men, who were apparently waiting for Burke. Assistant District Attorney Nadine Nagler told the jury today the masked men began demanding “the stuff.” When Cofressi could not help them, he was beaten and left in a basement laundry room with his hands tied and mouth covered with duct tape.

When Burke came home, the masked men jumped him, yelled at him, shot him and left him for dead in the basement. By that time, Cofressi had managed to get his cell phone form his pocket and called 911.

The case went unsolved for more than a year, until Wilkinson’s girlfriend told police he confessed to his role in the fatal robbery. burke was arrested Jan. 17, 2010 and indicted on eight felonies, including murder, robbery, burglary, gun possession and assault.

Nagler said Wilkinson made statements to police that implicated himself in the crime, such as asking what would happen if he was “only the driver.” Another friend of Wilkinson also plans to testify that Wilkinson admitted to being involved, Nagler said.

But defense lawyer Richard Ferrante urged the jury not to jump to any conclusions and to listen to the witnesses carefully. He noted that no DNA evidence links his client to the scene and questioned if police did all they could to find other suspects in the case.

The trial, before county Judge Susan Cacace, will continue tomorrow and could go to the jury as soon as next week.

Rebecca Baker

Rebecca Baker joined The Journal News in March 2004. She covers Eastchester, Bronxville and Tuckahoe, and was previously the state and county courts reporter in Westchester County. In prior jobs, she covered the Town of Greenburgh and Rockland County government and politics. Before coming to The Journal News, she was a municipal reporter for newspapers in New Haven, Conn. and Warren, Ohio.