Frank “Pork” Lafave, whom accused murder John Kinney said actually committed the horrific murder of Adolphus Bouvia, testified that he had been in Chazy for two months, a fact confirmed by his hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Eaton. In rebuttal, the defense called William Laforce, an inmate in the county jail. Laforce was facing two charges of horse theft, which may have reduced his credibility as a witness. He claimed that during Frank Lafave’s visit to the jail, Laforce had overheard him admitting the crime and promising revenge on John Kinney for being a snitch. According to Laforce, the comment was, “Kinney, I killed old Bouvia and gave you ninety dollars.” Then, on his way out, Lafave added, “John, you squealed on me, and I will get even with you yet.”
Another inmate, Robert Morrison, was re-called to the stand after testifying earlier about letters he had supposedly written on behalf of Kinney. The DA pressed Morrison to admit that he had been paid by the defense to testify. At that point, attorney John E. Judge took the stand briefly, explaining that, just six hours earlier (at 3 am), he had been dispatched to locate Morrison in Burke, a Franklin County village about forty-five miles west of Plattsburgh. Morrison was informed he would be paid fifty dollars by the county for appearing in court later that morning.
Despite the fact that many other witnesses had been subpoenaed, the defense surprised everyone by ending its case, and in early afternoon, final summations were presented. Although he had precious little to work with, defense attorney Patrick Tierney eloquently stressed that the chain of evidence was circumstantial, and “was only as strong as its weakest link. If there was a weak place in the chain, the entire fabric must fall.” He also claimed that the so-called confession by Kinney had been obtained under heated, third-degree questioning. Tierney’s final comments included a plea that the jury return Kinney to his family.
For the prosecution, DA Hogue took two hours to review all the evidence that had been presented. After the judge’s charge and a break for dinner, the jury began deliberating at around 8 pm.
Sunday morning at 10, the court reconvened to announce the verdict: guilty of murder in the first degree. Kinney seemed unaffected by the decision, confident that an appeal would exonerate him. Twenty-four hours later, he stood once again before Judge Spencer, who handed down the mandatory sentence of death, to be carried out during the week of July 25. Kinney had just five weeks to live.
Spencer also granted the DA’s request that any money found on the killer after the crime be turned over to the estate of Adolphus Bouvia.
Kinney remained in the packed courtroom, greeting many familiar faces and assuring well-wishers that an appeal would win him a new trial. But shortly after the session ended, reality set in when he was immediately hauled away, destined for a cell on Dannemora’s death row. He would arrive just in time to take the place of an Albany murderer, whose execution was scheduled for the next morning.
Following Kinney’s departure from the courthouse, a brief and somewhat curious encounter was related in local newspapers the next day: “Shortly after John Kinney had started for prison, his mother appeared at the courthouse and requested to see her son. When she was informed that he had started for Dannemora, she stood for a few moments as if stunned. Then with the simple word, ‘Well!’ she turned and left the building.”
The filing of an appeal led to delays in Kinney’s execution, and eleven months later, during which time three of his fellow death row inmates were sent to the chair, the court began reviewing his case.
In mid-June 1911 came the long-awaited news: the judgment against him had been reversed, and he would get a new trial. A year and a day after he was sentenced to death, John Kinney gladly returned to the Clinton County jail.
In reversing the earlier decision, the high court addressed several issues. Typical among them was the chain of possession regarding keys that were found in the courthouse bathroom the morning after Kinney had used the facility. One of the keys fit the padlock on Bouvia’s house. The appeals court noted that the keys could conceivably have been left there a few days earlier. Allowing them to be presented in court as evidence was misleading, and might have been powerful enough to sway the verdict.
The ruling also suggested that the defense should have been granted greater leeway in attempting to prove its assertion that Kinney’s confession was induced by fear. But the justices were careful to cite their colleague, Judge Spencer, for doing a good job overall in the face of extreme personal hardship. Their deference to his lapses stemmed from Spencer’s ongoing battle against severe illness, which had since resulted in his death.
“In his anxiety conscientiously to fulfill his duties, he undertook, in the trial of this case, burdens which it was beyond his strength to carry.… And in charging the jury, he did inadvertently and unintentionally do several things that would best be corrected by allowing a new trial, however strong the people’s case may be regarded.”
A local reporter assessed Kinney’s appearance after returning to the county lockup:
One year ago yesterday, John Kinney was taken to Dannemora by Nash … and has been in the Death Row section since then. Kinney shows plainly the effects of this close confinement. He is pale and weak and almost staggers when walking. He is in the best of spirits, and is overjoyed at being given another fight for his life.
He speaks in the highest terms of the treatment he received at the hands of the prison officials, but says the suspense one undergoes while awaiting the time for the carrying out of the death sentence is something terrible.
He will be confined in jail here until he is again placed on trial in Supreme Court next winter.
In December, six months after his return and almost exactly two years after Bouvia was killed, Kinney learned his new trial would begin in February. Attorneys Tierney and Agnew began meeting frequently with Judge Henry Kellogg in hopes of avoiding a second trial.
In late January, when jury selection was to begin, Tierney outlined in court the terms of a plea deal that Kellogg had grudgingly agreed to. In urging the court’s acceptance of Kinney’s change of plea, he presented several arguments. In most juries, said Tierney, at least some individuals opposed capital punishment; both Governor Dix and the superintendent of prisons had taken a stance against the death penalty; several bills were before the state in hopes of abolishing the practice; and the county would avoid the expense of a second trial. He added that, at age thirty-eight, Kinney probably would not outlive his sentence. For those reasons, all parties should accept John Kinney’s plea of guilty to second-degree murder.
Judge Kellogg granted Tierney’s request, but noted for the record that he was “loath to accept such a plea,” believing Kinney deserved the full legal punishment for his crime.
Sentence was pronounced as life in prison, with a minimum of twenty years served.
For Kinney, it was a new beginning of sorts after narrowly escaping the chair. Upon returning to Dannemora, he addressed a lifetime of illiteracy (which was not uncommon in those days) by learning to read and write. He was also said to have been a model prisoner, although no evidence was provided to support that claim.
In late August 1919, seven years after he returned to Dannemora, John Kinney was found hanging in his cell. Prison officials declared his death a suicide, although the circumstances were somewhat suspect in that the news wasn’t released until at least a week after his body was found. Perhaps the delay was to allow the completion of an internal investigation. Whatever the case, details of his death were not provided to the public — and that, too, was not uncommon.
Note: Bouvia’s story, based primarily on official court records, is taken from my latest collection of true-murder stories, titled: Dannemora’s Death House: The Crimes and Fates of 41 Killers Sentenced to Die in Clinton Prison’s Electric Chair.
Photos: Headlines, 1910, 1910, 1911, 1919