FORT EDWARD — The wife of the man who is accused of choking his 95-year-old grandmother to death pleaded guilty Thursday in Washington County Court to assisting her husband dispose of the alleged murder weapon and other charges.
The lawyer for the man accused of the killing harshly criticized the plea deal on Friday after his client was in court, and said that the “justice system has closed its eyes” toward the case.
Melissa Gonyea, 35, pleaded guilty to seven felony charges and agreed to cooperate against Kevin L. Gonyea when he is tried early next year for the July strangulation death of Leona Twiss in her West Fort Ann home. Kevin Gonyea has been charged with second-degree murder and lesser counts for the killing.
Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan said Mrs. Gonyea faces 4-2/3 to 14 years in prison if she cooperates with prosecutors and testifies against her husband. If not, she faces a longer prison term when sentenced by Washington County Judge Kelly McKeighan.
“She is expected to cooperate and testify truthfully. If she doesn’t, she faces consecutive sentencing,” Jordan said.
She pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution, tampering with physical evidence and offering a false instrument for filing. Both Gonyeas were accused of welfare fraud-related charges after those allegations were uncovered during the death investigation.
The Gonyeas lived with Twiss, and had been taking care of her.
Court records show she told police she disposed of a towel that police believe was used to choke Twiss. It was recovered in a remote area of Fort Ann, when Mrs. Gonyea took officers to where she threw it.
Videos filed in the case show that she told police that she did not witness Twiss’ death, but that she saw Kevin Gonyea emerge from Twiss’ bedroom with a towel and he told her “it’s done.” They initially told police they heard her fall in her room, but an autopsy showed injuries consistent with her being choked.
Mrs. Gonyea cooperated with police, and court records show her husband consented to hours of questioning but did not make any admissions to killing Twiss.
Mrs. Gonyea was supposed to be in court on Friday, but the case was moved up to Thursday afternoon with no explanation or notice to the media.
Her lawyer, Robert Gregor, said he had no comment on the case Friday.
Mr. Gonyea, 50, appeared before McKeighan in court Friday afternoon. The judge set a pre-trial hearing in his case for Dec. 14, but no trial date has been set.
His lawyer, Gregory Teresi, said a plea deal that would send Mrs. Gonyea to prison for up to 14 years was a “grave injustice,” and he was “perfectly fine with her taking the stand” against his client.
He said he believes other family members were to blame, and that police did not fully investigate those avenues.
Teresi said they had a financial motive to have her killed, as she was going to be put in a nursing home, but his client did not.
“There is no doubt in my mind the district attorney’s office rushed to indict this case, and there were stones left unturned,” he said. “As a result, an innocent man is behind bars.”
Police videos show Mrs. Gonyea implicated other family members of Twiss in the planning of her death.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating whether others were involved in the plotting of Twiss’ death, but no one else has been charged.
Both defendants are being held in Washington County Jail pending further court action.