FORT EDWARD — The couple involved in the killing of a 95-year-old Fort Ann woman in July 2017 were sentenced to prison time on Friday.
Washington County Court Judge Kelly McKeighan imposed a sentence of 15 years to life in prison for Kevin L. Gonyea, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his grandmother, Leona Twiss. Gonyea had strangled the woman with a towel in her West Fort Ann home on July 9, 2017.
Gonyea’s wife, Melissa Gonyea, received a sentence totaling 3-1/3 to 10 years in prison for disposing of the towel her husband used in the killing.
Tammie Colvin, a niece of Twiss’, gave a victim’s impact statement at Kevin Gonyea’s sentencing. She said there were not enough words to describe Twiss, the matriarch of the family.
“She was a loving mother, grandmother, aunt and friend to a lot of people,” Colvin said. “She was one who cared more for others than herself — always making sure people had what they needed.”
Colvin described Twiss as an “angel” who touched people with a smile or a joke.
“She would want us to smile, which I know she is doing right now from above,” she said.
“The family will heal in time. It is better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all,” Colvin said.
McKeighan asked Gonyea if he had anything to say.
Gonyea said “no,” which prompted harsh words from the judge.
“I’m sort of amazed you have nothing to say,” he said.
McKeighan said he has seen a lot of people who have committed heinous crimes in his court, but Gonyea is among the worst.
“You put a towel over your grandmother’s face,” McKeighan said.
The Gonyeas were living with Twiss to care for her, because she had advanced dementia. They were unable to get her into a nursing home, and Kevin Gonyea told police he snapped and choked her.
Cierra Colvin, a great niece of Twiss’, said at Melissa Gonyea’s sentencing that her great aunt was a role model for her and others in the community.
“We’re talking about a woman who never thought of hurting a fly,” Colvin said.
Twiss always had a smile on her face, Colvin said. Even in her 90s, Twiss stayed active and liked to go to Grumbellies in Fort Ann to dance or watch people dance, Colvin said.
“She always told me she was going to live past 100,” Colvin said.
Colvin said she has nightmares about the night that her great aunt was killed and called Kevin Gonyea “cruel” and a “heartless coward” for taking the Twiss’ life.
“This monster could have asked for help,” she said.
Colvin said Melissa Gonyea deserves the maximum punishment allowed for her role in the crime.
“She has no remorse for what she did,” she said.
Melissa Gonyea’s lawyer, Robert Gregor, said his client was a victim of her husband’s domestic abuse for 30 years, which included pulling her down the stairs by her hair.
“It doesn’t excuse her actions. It does mitigate them,” Gregor said.
Gregor said Gonyea cooperated with police and led officers to the murder weapon.
He also asked the judge to take into account some recent news that Gonyea’s 13-year-old son requires heart surgery.
Melissa Gonyea also spoke at the sentencing.
“I did what I did out of fear,” she said.
“I am truly, from the deepest part of my heart, sorry for what happened,” she said.
McKeighan said he believed that the mitigating factors were taken into account, which resulted in a shorter sentence.
McKeighan was not persuaded by the argument Gonyea acted out of fear for her husband, saying that she had opportunities to get out or use a cell phone to get help.
“You stood by and let a 95-year-old woman get murdered,” he said. “That’s inexcusable.”
McKeighan imposed on Melissa Gonyea two concurrent sentences of 2-1/3 to 7 years for two counts of hindering prosecution and another 1 to 3 years for offering a false instrument for filing.
Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan said it was nice to hear from the family members to paint the picture of who Twiss was.
The Gonyeas originally were scheduled to be sentenced in February. That was postponed, however, after two other relatives of Twiss’ — her son, Gordon W. Twiss, and grandson, David Twiss — were indicted on conspiracy charges for alleged involvement in plotting the crime.
Those charges were dismissed by McKeighan when he ruled that the grand jury had been allowed to hear impermissible “opinion” testimony from the Gonyeas and from police officers who suspected the men’s involvement.