A Granville man whose 1972 killing of his son played a part in the state’s creation of a child abuse hotline died Sunday in a state prison, 17 years after finally being brought to justice.
David J. Pope Sr., 67, was serving a life sentence in state prison for the murder of his 2-year-old son when he died Sunday of natural causes in Sing Sing Correctional Facility, according to the state Department of Correctional Services.
Pope had been in state prison since 1995 for the 1972 beating death of his 2-year-old son, Howard “Hodgie” White, in the family’s home in the village of Granville.
The 1972 death had led to Pope’s prosecution and acquittal on lesser charges as family members withheld information about what happened to the boy.
State Police Senior Investigator Thomas Aiken, who along with then-Granville Police Detective Frank Hunt led the investigation, said the case also played a part in the changing of state policies and laws regarding child abuse reports.
Upset at the apparent failures in the child welfare system, then-Washington County District Attorney Philip Berke’s lobbying campaign played a part in the creation of laws that require mandatory reporting of child abuse by certain professionals who come in contact with children. Counties were required to create Child Protective Services agencies, and a hotline was set up for child abuse reports.
Berke was particularly concerned that the Department of Social Services at the time did not cooperate with the police and district attorney’s office.
“They weren’t cooperative at all and were advised (by the department counsel) not to give the district attorney’s office information at all,” Berke said. “I had a lot of concerns about that.”
Hodgie’s death was initially attributed to “natural causes,” but the investigation was re-opened in 1994, as State Police developed information he had been beaten to death.
The toddler’s body was exhumed and an autopsy found the boy was the victim of a homicide.
Pope was convicted of second-degree murder during a 1995 trial, a trial that exposed a catastrophic failure of the child welfare system in Washington County at the time, as abuse and neglect reports from neighbors were ignored or minimized by caseworkers.
Acting County Judge G. Thomas Moynihan Jr. sentenced Pope to the maximum prison term of 25-years-to-life, a conviction and sentence that withstood a number of appeals, including one as recently as 2007.
Aiken said Pope physically abused many of his six children and stepchildren for many years.
“At least the victims, and there were many child victims, can take some comfort that the criminal justice system cost him the last 17 years of his life in prison,” Aiken said. “At least we know he will be very unhappy for the rest of eternity.”
“I feel bad for Pope’s other children because they certainly had a tough row to hoe,” said former Washington County District Attorney Robert Winn, who prosecuted the case. “He certainly was where he belonged.”