Anthony Willis was sentenced to 21 years to life Monday morning by Oneida County Court Judge Michael Dwyer for the Feb. 6 murder of Aaron Higgs.
Willis, 38, pled guilty to the murder, which occurred at a busy Fastrac at 1800 Genesee St. in broad daylight, in February.
Officials said the guilty plea came after Willis' attorney reviewed all evidence in the case and had Willis evaluated for possibly negating the charge by reason of insanity, but it was not believed this defense would be successful.
Prosecutors were unable to determine a motive behind the killing and Willis did not provide one Monday during a short statement to the court.
"I wasn't in my right state of mind," Willis said to the court, his body language remaining unchanged throughout his time before Dwyer. "I made a very bad mistake."
Dwyer was quick to remind Willis that "mistake" he was referring to cost another man his life.
According to police, Higgs, 43, of Utica, was shot in the back of the head by Willis as he sat behind Higgs in a car Feb. 6 at Fastrac.
It was the first homicide in Utica of 2022, and especially disturbing to police as it occurred in daylight at a public place. Prosecutors noted this several times Monday, particularly highlighting how the area was full of people.
Prosecutors said surveillance showed how the events unfolded, with Willis firing at Higgs after the driver of the vehicle had stepped out. A motive has still not been determined, although Willis was found with $43,000 on him when arrested.
Willis initially was charged with second-degree murder, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, all felonies, and misdemeanor criminal possession of a controlled substance.
Maria Blaise, who handled the prosecution on behalf of the Oneida County District Attorney's Office, called the murder a "truly senseless act of violence."
Blaise also read a statement on behalf of Higgs' mother Karen Knox, of Florida. Knox had originally planned to travel to Utica for the sentencing, but had thought better of it, Blaise said.
In the statement, Knox laid out the ups and downs of Higgs' life and noted her son's artistic talent. She had Blaise share a drawing that Biggs had done of his cousins.
"I am broken, I am devastated by the loss of my son," Knox said.
Knox also would thank the Utica Police Department and the district attorney's office for their work, noting she was fortunate to get justice for her son.
This article originally appeared on Observer-Dispatch: Anthony Willis sentenced to prison for Aaron Higgs murder