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Man gets 21 years to life in prison in Utica homicide

Sean I. Mills
Staff writer
email / twitter
Posted 8/9/22

A Utica man who admitted to shooting another man in the back of the head while parked outside a Fastrac store on Genesee Street apologized for his actions in Oneida County Court Monday morning, …

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Man gets 21 years to life in prison in Utica homicide

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UTICA — A Utica man who admitted to shooting another man in the back of the head while parked outside a Fastrac store on Genesee Street apologized for his actions in Oneida County Court Monday morning, taking some measure of responsibility for what he says drugs and mental health problems caused.

Meanwhile, the mother of murder victim Aaron Higgs mourned a son who was trying to turn his life around.

“I am broken. I am devastated at the loss of my beautiful son,” wrote Karen Higgs Knox in a letter to the court.

Anthony Willis, 38, was sentenced by County Court Judge Michael L. Dwyer on Monday to 21 years to life in state prison on a charge of second-degree murder. Willis pleaded guilty to the charge in early June.

Authorities said Willis shot 43-year-old Aaron Higgs in the back of the head while the two men were sitting in a car outside the Fastrac on Genesee Street at about 2 p.m. Feb. 6. Prosecutors said Willis and Higgs had just met that morning, and a mutual friend was giving them both a ride around town. The friend was inside the store when Willis shot Higgs from the back seat.

Willis fled the scene on foot and returned home, where prosecutors said he grabbed large quantities of crack cocaine and powdered cocaine, as well as $40,000 in cash, in an attempt to leave the city. He was taken into custody at his residence.

Karen Higgs Knox, mother of Aaron Higgs, lives in Florida and said she was unable to travel to New York to attend the sentencing due to her grief. Knox instead wrote a letter, which was read in the courtroom by Assistant District Attorney Maria Murad Blais.

“Aaron was loved by his family,” Knox wrote. “We wanted him to turn his life around, and we were rooting for him to do so.”

Knox told the court that Higgs was a “talented artist,” who excelled at sketching portraits of family members and famous people. A sketch of Higgs’s cousins was shared with the court.

“He did not deserve to die in this fashion,” Knox wrote.

When it was his turn to speak, Willis apologized for his actions. According to his defense attorney, Willis has struggled with mental health problems and drug use for many years.

“I would like to apologize to the victim. I wasn’t in my right state of mind at the time I made a very bad mistake,” Willis said in court.

“I’m sorry for the loss.”

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