A Wellsville teenager is expected to spend the next decade in state prison, under a plea deal, for his role in the murder of 23-year-old Nicholas Burdge inside the victim’s Main Street, Wellsville NY apartment March 21, 2020. He is one of eight defendants; three have already been sentenced. Justin L. Darden of state Route 417 pled guilty to first-degree Manslaughter, a class B felony.
He was led into Judge Thomas Brown’s courtroom Wednesday afternoon by sheriff’s deputies. Darden’s parents sat behind him. We were the only media inside. Judge Brown told Darden that “Youthful Offender status is off the table,” noting that had it been granted, the crime would be reduced to a class E felony with a maximum sentence of three years. Darden responded, “Yes your Honor.” In addition, the teen gave up his right to remain silent, gave up his right to appeal and must serve five years post-release supervision.
Defense attorney Brian Degnan noted for the record that “my client has a learning disability.” The father then added, he has had it “since birth.” Darden then said “I want to talk to my lawyer.” Judge Brown commented “I believe he (Darden) is competent,” but asked a series of questions regarding the disability. As part of the allocution, Degnen asked Darden a series of questions. The teen then said “others did the physical injuries…I just stood there.” Judge Brown said “I can’t accept that” and Assistant District Attorney Michael Finn agreed.
After further probing, Darden admitted that he punched Burdge, dragged his body downstairs with his head striking several steps, loaded the lifeless body into a pickup truck, drove to Jack Bridge Road in Willing and dumped the body into the Genesee River…where it was discovered the next day. Judge Brown then asked the young man, “How do you plead?” “Guilty,” Darden said. Brown then remanded the defendant back to a secure youth detention facility in Erie County.
A pre-sentence investigation was ordered with formal sentencing scheduled for June 23rd at 1 p.m. Outside the courtroom, ADA Finn was asked if he was satisfied with the events. He responded, “Yes. Mr. Darden pleaded to Manslaughter in the first degree as a step toward justice in the case.” He admitted, based on the total number of defendants, it was one of the most challenging cases of his career. Another defendant, Brandon J. Poemel of Wellsville, is expected to pleaded guilty next Wednesday to first-degree Manslaughter and will accept a 15-year prison sentence. Howard Burroughs of Wellsville is expected to go to trial.