November 3, 2012

Man gets 15 years in sledgehammer death

Chateaugay man sentenced for killing abusive father


---- — MALONE — Dale S. Jarvis Jr. sobbed as he apologized for killing his abusive father with a sledgehammer, for which he will serve 15 years in state prison.

Dale S. Jarvis Sr., 48, of 14 White St., Chateaugay, was last seen alive Feb. 21. Dale Jr., 24, known as “D.J.,” had told relatives seven different versions of his father’s whereabouts, including that he left with late-night visitors and instructed his son not to report him missing if he didn’t return.

But human remains were discovered in July, buried in the back yard of the home they shared in the Village of Chateaugay. The remains, found in a makeshift casket, were buried five-feet deep five feet from the back of the house and were later identified as Dale Sr.


D.J. pleaded guilty in August to first-degree manslaughter and faced Franklin County Court Judge Robert G., Main Jr. for sentencing Friday.

“Not a single day goes by that I don’t regret what I did,” the young man sobbed as he read from a yellow, legal-sized pad of paper. “I wish I would have had the courage to tell someone what my father was doing to me.”

Ten of his family members and friends sat in the gallery behind him, some of whom had written letters of support to the court before sentencing, reportedly telling of abuses D.J. had suffered at the hands of his father as well as the drugs Dale Sr. apparently supplied and used with his son.

The letters were not read aloud but referred to by Public Defender Thomas Soucia, District Attorney Derek Champagne and Main.


The young man continued crying as he told of how — no matter how bad he was abused — he always cared for and helped his father and was by his side.

“I just wish I could have said ‘I love you’ and you felt the same,” D.J. cried.

Soucia became emotional as he urged the judge to be lenient with his client.

“Five years ago, when I took this job, Dale Jarvis Jr. was one of my first clients, and I had high hopes for him,” he said. “But, at the same time, I knew he was very angry.”

The public defender said D.J. didn’t get the loving home and nurturing parents most other children have and that his life before his arrest “wasn’t very pleasant.”

He said the young man was neglected as a child, there was rarely food in the house when he lived with his father and that his living conditions growing up were extremely poor.

“It was more than a dirty house,” Soucia said.

Some of the letters the court received include accounts of Dale Sr.’s verbal and physical abuse of D.J., which included threatening him and others with guns and screaming outside relatives’ homes when the young man was seeking refuge inside. There were allusions to sexual abuse, though no specific incidents were cited.


Dale Sr. smoked marijuana, then graduated to using crack cocaine, sometimes spending entire weekends locked in his bedroom, partaking in drugs and ignoring his children and responsibilities, according to the letters.

He often lost jobs because he could not get up for work after a weekend of partying.

“His father was not a pleasant man,” Soucia said. “And you know how a father’s expectation of his children is not realistic? Dale (Jr.) had no positive feedback. It was all negative things.”


The case came to light when an offhanded remark made in July in an unrelated drug case raised the possibility that the man had been murdered.

It prompted State Police to began an investigation where search warrants, cadaver-detecting dogs and interviews with neighbors, relatives and others brought the case together quickly.

Prosecutors said Dale Sr. was killed after he and D.J. argued over the volume of a video game the younger man was playing while up late tending a wood-stove fire.

D.J. told authorities his father came out of a back bedroom with what turned out to be a pellet gun in his hand and struck his son in the head with it.

The two fought, wrestled and struggled on the floor, with the older man getting the upper hand by pinning D.J. down.

As Dale Sr. was getting up, D.J. saw the broken handle of a sledgehammer nearby, picked it up and struck his father in the back of the head with it, killing him instantly.


Investigators said the younger man used a trap door in the floor to drop the body into a crawl space under the house then built a makeshift casket to conceal the body.

He used a foam sealant on the box to prevent odors from escaping and left the body there several weeks until the weather improved so he could dig a grave.

Relatives later reported his anxiousness in having the broken backhoe repaired last spring, and neighbors told police they remember D.J. using the machine in the backyard.

A second hole found on the property, this one 11 feet deep, contained paperwork D.J. claimed his father had with him when he left.

While authorities waited for the DNA analysis of a bloodstain to be completed, the plea agreement was reached.


The defense attorney said he was pleased with the sentence and that his client had fully expected to get the maximum 25 years when he entered court.

“We were pleased and thought (15 years) was appropriate,” Soucia said.

D.J.’s family members were also glad, he said.

“They were sympathetic. They were sad because they lost a brother or a son, but they were sympathetic to Dale’s plight.”

Champagne said he left the sentencing decision to the judge’s discretion because only two people know what happened that day.

“As the gatekeeper of the criminal-justice system in the county, I couldn’t necessarily prove what the defendant said happened that night did happen, and I couldn’t disprove it,” the DA said.

But going to trial and obtaining a jury verdict “would have led us right back to where we were today.”

Given the Probation Department report and abundance of letters from the family that told of D.J.’s sad upbringing, Champagne was satisfied with the 15-year term.

The judge said he, too, cannot know what truly went on the night Dale Sr. was killed.

“With cases like this, it is not possible to nail the facts to the wall. It’s generally the history surrounding the defendant which paints a picture of what type of individual he is and what he may be capable of,” Main said.

He said “to his credit,” D.J. admitted his responsibility and pleaded guilty, but his “criminal history suggests a willingness to put his own interests ahead of those of others,” the judge said. “His convictions for criminal contempt are stark evidence of that.”

Main said D.J. violated probation three times and used drugs his father supplied him, which also played a role in his attitude and behavior.

“I don’t know what the defendant was subjected to as child or a young adult at the hands of his father, but if everything the defendant claims is true, it’s still not an excuse or reason that justifies what took place in Chateaugay.”

Main ordered D.J. to serve five years of post-release supervision and to pay $225 in court fees and surcharges.

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