ERIE (TNS) — A Corry man who killed two men in a short but violent crime spree that spanned Erie and Warren counties in June 2020 said nothing as he stood in an Erie County courtroom on Monday morning after pleading guilty to one count each of second- and third-degree murder.
Cody J. Potthoff pleaded guilty in the shooting deaths of John C. Burick and Ian Welden.
Potthoff, 26, was sentenced to life plus up to another 30 years in state prison on his guilty pleas, which he entered before Erie County Judge John J. Mead days before he was scheduled for trial on charges including homicide, robbery and burglary in four criminal cases filed by the Pennsylvania State Police.
Jury selection was set to start on Wednesday. Mead sentenced Potthoff immediately after the plea.
Potthoff, who is not eligible for parole, was accused of killing Welden at the North East Township home of Potthoff’s father on June 16, 2020; of killing Burick while robbing Burick of his pickup truck in Harborcreek Township on June 17, 2020; and of stealing four other vehicles before the crime spree ended when authorities arrested Potthoff at a Warren County homeless shelter on June 18, 2020.
In Burick’s death, Potthoff pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, or a homicide committed during a felony, such as a robbery. Second-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no parole.
In Welden’s death, Potthoff pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, or an unpremeditated killing with malice. Third-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in state prison. Assistant Erie County District Attorney Jeremy Lightner, who handled the case, said the prosecution recommended a sentence of 15 to 30 years on that count.
Mead accepted the recommendation and ran the life sentence and the sentence of 15 to 30 years consecutively.
Potthoff had no comment at the sentencing.
In sentencing Potthoff, Mead said that, in all of his years as an attorney and judge, he has “never seen a cold-blooded crime spree quite like this.”
A possible motive in the killings was never spelled out in case documents or court hearings. But one man who state police charged with assisting Potthoff in concealing Welden’s body after the killing testified during Potthoff’s preliminary hearing in July 2020 that the pair had been ingesting bath salts and methamphetamine and that neither had slept for about a week before meeting up days before the crime spree began.
The Erie County District Attorney’s Office had considered seeking the death penalty against Potthoff in the two homicides before announcing in September 2020 that it would not. District Attorney Jack Daneri said at the time that while the charges against Potthoff included aggravating factors that would allow his office to pursue capital punishment, other factors at issue and “the current status of the death penalty in Pennsylvania” led his office to decline to pursue the death penalty.
Pottoff would have received an automatic life sentence with no parole if he were convicted at trial of first-degree murder, and could have faced two consecutive life terms for killing two people.
Potthoff was wanted by the Erie Bureau of Police on charges of shooting a man in the city on June 11, 2020, when, on June 17, 2020, authorities said he fled from a traffic stop in Edinboro.
Edinboro police pursued the vehicle, a Nissan Sentra, before it crashed on a gravel road in Washington Township and the occupants ran off. State police towed the Nissan to the agency’s Girard barracks, and during a search of the car Welden’s body was found in the trunk, according to investigators.
State police accused Potthoff of killing Welden sometime on June 16, 2020, at the home of Potthoff’s father in North East Township.
After Potthoff ran from the Nissan Sentra when it crashed in Washington Township, Potthoff stole an all-terrain vehicle and fled into a wooded area, authorities said. Later that morning, investigators charged that Potthoff went to a residence in the Edinboro area, confronted a man at gunpoint, forced the man into his house and took the keys to a 2013 Chevrolet Silverado that Potthoff fled in.
Sometime after that, on June 17, 2020, state police accused Potthoff of encountering Burick and killing him while robbing Burick of his Ford F-150 in Harborcreek. Burick’s body was found on state game lands in Greenfield Township on June 19, 2020. The stolen pickup truck was later located in Warren County.
Authorities additionally charge that, while on the run, Potthoff stole a Jeep Liberty from a residence in Columbus Township, Warren County. The Jeep was recovered in Warren County on June 18, 2020, the same day authorities said they took Potthoff into custody at a homeless shelter in Conewango Township, Warren County.