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|Prosecutor(s):|| Terry Wilhelm|
|Judge(s):|| George J. Pulver Jr| CONVICTED: Was justice served?
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Monday, Jul 28, 2008County: Greene
Defendant/Suspect: Travis Augustine
Case Updates: 2 update(s) available
A man who lived on Martha Conners' property has been charged with killing the Catskill woman and her dog and burying them in a shallow grave, the Greene County prosecutor's office announced on Thursday.
Travis Augustine, 23, of Catskill, who has been in jail for nearly two months on an unrelated charge, was indicted by a Greene County grand jury on Thursday for second-degree murder, aggravated cruelty to animals and criminal possession of stolen property, District Attorney Terry Wilhelm announced in a prepared statement.
Augustine pleaded not guilty to all the counts during an arraignment later Thursday and was returned to the Greene County Jail without bail.
Conners, 48, and a dog belonging to her were found dead in a makeshift grave on July 28 on her Old Kings Road property in Catskill, the same property on which Augustine lived in a camper. Conners was killed with a single gunshot to her right temple, according to Greene County Coroner Richard Vigilo, and the dog had been shot five times in the head.
The charges against Augustine allege he killed Conners and the dog during the first week in July, probably between the 2nd and the 6th, according to court papers.
On July 17, 11 days before the dead woman and animal were found, Augustine was arrested in Rome, N.Y., after being pulled over by police. Wilhelm said Augustine was driving Conners' yellow Ford Ranger pickup when he was stopped for recklessly pulling out of a Wendy's parking lot and nearly striking a Rome police vehicle that had its siren on and roof lights flashing as it headed to another incident.
Rome police saw that Augustine was wanted on a probation violation warrant issued by Cairo Town Court and turned him over to Greene County authorities. Augustine was on probation stemming from an earlier arrest for falsifying business records.
At the time of his arrest, Augustine also was in possession of Conners' Bank of Greene County Visa debit card, which had been used at least five times after Conners was killed, authorities said. He also had her cell phone.
Wilhelm said Augustine's incarceration for the probation violation gave police time to build a strong case for the grand jury.
"We knew he wasn't going anywhere," Wilhelm said. "Loose ends were being followed up. We took advantage of the extra time to further the investigation."
Wilhelm declined to comment on a motive in the case, though he said the stolen property may have been a factor. He also did not say whether investigators had recovered the weapon or weapons used to kill Conners and the dog.
Augustine had befriended Conners through his mother and was living in a camper on Conners' property when Conners and the dog were killed, Wilhelm said. The prosecutor said Augustine had been living on Conners' property for a short time - more than several weeks, but less than several months.
Conners body and the dog's remains were discovered by Conners' 19-year-old son, Matthew, who came upstate from his Long Island home to look for his mother because no one had heard from her.
He found his mother's property and her other pets in a state of neglect, and one of her dogs, a large white boxer, missing. After learning Augustine was behind bars, Matthew Conners went to the Greene County Jail and spoke with the him on July 28, Wilhelm said. According to family friends who spoke with Matthew Conners after the body was discovered, Augustine told the son in the jail that the missing dog was buried on the property.
Matthew Conners then went back to his mother's property, located the grave and started digging with the help of his wife, his mother-in-law and the mother-in-law's boyfriend. They found the dog buried on top of the woman, with a blanket from Martha Conners' bed between the two.
Luanne Fleury of Cairo, a friend of the slain woman, said Martha Conners worked at the Price Chopper supermarket in Catskill. Shortly after Conners' body was found, Fleury described her friend as "a devoted mom, a devoted Christian and a really good woman" who "would give you the shirt off her back."
Wilhelm on Thursday praised the efforts of police who gathered the evidence that led to the indictment.
"Many investigators worked tirelessly for days after the discovery of Martha Conners' body, as they traveled back and forth numerous times between Catskill and Rome following up on numerous developing leads," he said in a prepared statement.
In court on Thursday, Greene County Judge George J. Pulver Jr. gave Augustine's attorney 45 days in which to make motions against the indictment.
Augustine's next court date was not set.
|The state's highest court on Thursday unanimously rejected the appeal of convicted Catskill murderer Travis Augustine, finding that "overwhelming" evidence of his guilt overshadowed his lawyer's argument that he was interviewed by State Police without a lawyer present.|
Augustine, 28, is serving 29 years to life at Attica Correctional Facility for second-degree murder, aggravated animal cruelty and possessing stolen property. He was convicted of shooting Martha Conners, 48, his platonic housemate in Catskill and her dog. He buried both on her property.
Augustine's appellate lawyer, Matthew Hug, argued police violated Augustine's right to have an attorney present when they interviewed him twice in 2009 and obtained incriminating statements that led to his conviction.
Hannah Moore, a lawyer with New York Prosecutors Training Institute who handled the appeal for Greene County prosecutors, argued Augustine waived his right to a lawyer at an earlier arraignment. She said this held true even though the judge who presided over that arraignment wrote on a memo that the Greene County public defender's office would be assigned to represent Augustine.
Several judges on the Court of Appeals appeared skeptical of Moore's argument when they heard arguments April 30. But the court ultimately upheld two lower court rulings that rejected Augustine's bid for freedom.
"There is no reasonable possibility that the introduction of the two challenged statements affected defendant's conviction in view of the other evidence, including two counseled statements to police and testimony of numerous witnesses, that overwhelmingly established his guilt," stated the 6-0 decision.
|Source: Times Union - June 6, 2013|
Update posted on Jun 7, 2013 - 6:19PM
|Johnson, convicted of murder and conspiracy, was sentenced to 28 1/2 years to life in prison.|
The appeals court also upheld the conviction of Travis Augustine, 26, who was found guilty of killing Martha Conners and her dog.
He was living in a trailer on Conners' property when he shot her once in the head and the dog five times. Their remains were discovered July 28, 2008.
Augustine was arrested while driving Conners' truck in Oneida County. He had her debit card.
The appellate court noted Augustine "called his half-brother and asked how to dispose of a body. Consistent with the advice he received, the victim's body was buried beneath the body of an animal."
He argued on appeal that his statements to police should have been blocked from the trial because he was being represented by an attorney at the time for an unrelated violation of probation charge -- and the lawyer was not present for the interview. The appellate division noted, "If a suspect in custody is not actually represented by counsel on pending charges and does not request counsel, police may question that person about unrelated matters."
Augustine, convicted of second-degree murder, possessing stolen property and cruelty to animals, is serving 25 years to life at Attica Correctional Facility.
|Source: timesunion.com - Nov 10, 2011|
Update posted on Nov 11, 2011 - 9:21PM
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