Former corrections officer who plotted murder of grandmother spoke of killing inmates undetected

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FORT EDWARD — A former state corrections officer who is accused of plotting his grandmother’s murder is alleged to have told the killer how to commit the homicide by wrapping a towel around the woman’s neck, saying that was how corrections officers killed inmates without detection, according to court records.

Kevin Gonyea pleaded guilty to murder in the killing of Leona Twiss, his 95-year-old grandmother.

He and Melissa Gonyea, his wife, both told police and prosecutors that David M. Twiss made the comment last summer, documents filed in Washington County Court allege.

“David came up to me one day and said, ‘If you get sick of it, just put a towel around her neck and choke her out, get rid of her,’” Kevin Gonyea quoted him as saying.

Melissa Gonyea told authorities that she overheard the conversation last June, days before Mrs. Twiss was killed, and David Twiss said that was how inmates were killed by prison staff in prison.

David Twiss was a state corrections officer who worked at Great Meadow Correctional Facility before retiring in 2016.

Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan said he could not discuss whether the alleged statement led to an investigation, but a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said the claims were investigated and found to be false.

David Twiss, 52, and his father, Gordon W. Twiss, 73, have pleaded not guilty to felony conspiracy charges for their alleged role in the plot to kill Mrs. Twiss last summer. Gordon Twiss is Leona Twiss’ son. Kevin Gonyea is the nephew of Gordon Twiss.

Lawyers for both men have asked Washington County Judge Kelly McKeighan to dismiss the charges, arguing that the statements of co-conspirators — Kevin Gonyea and his wife — are not legally sufficient to prove the case. Mc­Keighan has not yet ruled.

In his motion to dismiss, Robert Winn, who represents David Twiss, called the Gonyeas’ version of events a “fairy tale” and Melissa Gonyea a “pathological liar.”

There was no motive for Gordon or David Twiss to kill Mrs. Twiss, as she had no estate and had qualified for Medicaid, according to Winn.

Winn called the statements from the Gonyeas “garbled, confused testimony of the actual murderer, Kevin Gonyea, and his wife, Melissa Gonyea.” An inmate in Washington County Jail with Melissa Gonyea told authorities she made a comment that they hoped to “pin the murder on David Twiss,” Winn wrote.

“Their statements exonerate both Gordon Twiss and David Twiss from any wrongdoing,” Winn wrote.

In the days after his grandmother’s death, Kevin Gonyea had repeatedly declined to implicate his relatives, changing his story months later when he got a plea deal for a lesser sentence, according to Winn.

The Gonyeas’ statements were contained in sworn depositions filed in recent weeks in Washington County Court. They were given after both pleaded guilty to their roles in the case, Kevin Gonyea for choking Mrs. Twiss and Melissa Gonyea for disposing of the towel he used.

The documents filed in County Court paint a picture of family members who were overwhelmed by the around-the-clock care that Mrs. Twiss needed because of her dementia.

Gordon Twiss was purportedly trying to find a nursing home for her, but Kevin Gonyea said he did not know why it was taking months longer than initially thought.

The Gonyeas had come to Florida to care for Mrs. Twiss and her husband in the summer of 2016, after Mrs. Twiss’ husband, Walter “Stubby” Twiss, could no longer drive. He died of a stroke months later, and the Gonyeas continued to care for Mrs. Twiss in her West Fort Ann home.

The Gonyeas told police and prosecutors that Gordon Twiss and David Twiss offered little help with Mrs. Twiss, and made it clear that she had become a burden.

The Gonyeas wanted to return to Florida in April 2017, where Mrs. Gonyea had family, but Gordon Twiss convinced them to stay longer.

“Gordy said it would be nice if she would fall and bang her head and that would be the end of it,” Kevin Gonyea told authorities.

David Twiss said, “he wished things would be over with her,” Kevin Gonyea claimed.

After Mrs. Twiss had a particularly tough day on July 9, during which she was “confused and angry,” Gordon Twiss told his nephew that “it needs to be done tonight,” both Gonyeas said in their sworn depositions.

Hours later, Kevin Gonyea choked her with a towel, crying as he emerged from her bedroom, Melissa Gonyea said.

“It looked like he was wiping his hands. He told me it was done,” she recalled.

Kevin Gonyea said he is an alcoholic who drank two 15-packs of beer that day, and was working on a third 15-pack when police arrived.

He told authorities he did all he could for his grandmother but was overwhelmed.

“I just couldn’t take it anymore. I said I’ve got to get out of this. It’s just been a nightmare since I’ve been up here,” he is quoted as saying. “I tried my best to do what I could. I just lost it.”

The Gonyeas initially told police July 9 that they didn’t know how Mrs. Twiss died, and suspected she fell out of bed.

An autopsy found neck injuries consistent with choking, leading to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and state police investigation and prosecution of the Gonyeas last summer and fall. After their guilty pleas, the Twisses were indicted.

Gordon Twiss, a well-known barber in Glens Falls, is being represented by Joseph Brennan. Court records allege Gordon Twiss said to his girlfriend, “See you in 15 years,” when investigators went to his home to get him for questioning.

Second-degree conspiracy is punishable by up to 81/3 to 25 years in state prison.

Their cases have been adjourned, pending a ruling by Judge Kelly McKeighan on pretrial motions.

Both men are free on their own recognizance.

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