MALONE — Dale S. Jarvis Jr. hit his father in the head with a sledgehammer during a fight over a video game and hid his body in a makeshift casket under their house for a month.
Details of the Feb. 21 death of Dale S. Jarvis Sr., 48, of 14 White St. in Chateaugay emerged Tuesday as Dale Jr., 24, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in Franklin County Court.
He was initially charged with second-degree murder and had a criminal-contempt charge pending for allegedly ignoring an order of protection in association with a domestic-violence incident. Both were satisfied with the manslaughter plea.
The younger man, who is also known as D.J., is to be sentenced at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 13 and faces a minimum of five years and a maximum of 25 years in state prison.
‘CONCERNED FOR FAMILY’
D.J. answered questions from Judge Robert G. Main Jr. in a soft voice, his head hung low as he stared down at the table, standing with his defense attorney, Public Defender Thomas Soucia.
Five members of the Jarvis family, including his grandfather Maynard Jarvis, sat in the gallery behind him, while a few rows of benches on the opposite side of the courtroom were filled with State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation investigators who worked the case.
Soucia said the plea agreement was reached after he had looked at the evidence, reviewed the photographs, visited the crime scene, spoke with investigators, talked with the family and consulted with his client.
“Based on my assessment, this is what made the most sense,” he said. “And my client didn’t want the family dragged through this for months. After my review, this was the best outcome.”
DEATH LIKELY INSTANT
The police probe started when someone from an unrelated drug investigation offhandedly questioned why police were concentrating so much on a drug case when a man missing for several months may have been murdered.
Dale Sr. was last seen Feb. 21, and District Attorney Derek Champagne said D.J.
told police, relatives and others as many as seven different stories as to where his father was during those five months.
Prosecutors said the statements collected and evidence uncovered revealed what likely happened.
D.J. and his father lived together off and on and “on a number of occasions, would get into a fight, where Dale Sr. usually got the upper hand,” the DA said.
The two usually took turns staying up at night to keep their wood stove stoked.
And on this night, D.J. was up late, playing a video game when Dale Sr. yelled at him from the bedroom to turn the volume down.
“The father had enough and came out and said, ‘I brought you into the world, I can take you out,’” Champagne said. “As his father approached, D.J. thought his father had a gun in his hand — which turned out to be a pellet gun — and Dale hit (D.J.) in the head with it.”
“The two of them then got into a physical confrontation, and D.J. said his father had him on the floor.
“D.J. saw the broken piece of sledgehammer with the handle partially broken off and, as his father got up and was moving to the back of the house, D.J. got up, picked up the piece with the sledge attached and hit him in the back of the head.”
Dale Sr. probably died instantly from the blow, Champagne said, considering the damage to the skull.
LEFT IN CRAWL SPACE
Using an access panel cut into the floor, D.J. apparently placed his father’s body in a crawl space under the house then built a makeshift casket by screwing pieces of wood together to form a box.
He tried to seal the seams, using expandable Styrofoam spray “to conceal the odor of decomposition,” Champagne said.
D.J. placed the body inside the box and left it in the crawl space for “several weeks or maybe up to a month” before mild weather made the ground outside soft enough to dig a grave.
He apparently used a backhoe to dig one spot about 5 feet deep and 5 feet from the back of the house, then dumped the encased body into it along with a piece of blood-stained carpet.
Champagne shared a photo in evidence from a June 28 police visit to the home that shows D.J. holding a Wal-Mart bag containing some of his father’s paperwork.
But when a second hole was found dug 11 feet deep on the property in mid July, he said, it contained a Wal-Mart bag containing paperwork belonging to Dale Sr.
Champagne said police also noticed a wall calendar with the date Feb. 21 circled and the notation ‘Dad at 12:30 a.m.’
D.J. had said that was when his father had given him money from his wallet, left his keys and cellphone and took off with two men in a dark SUV.
Months later, when police were seeking a search warrant, they were told by D.J.’s wife, Grace, that she saw Dale Sr.’s driver’s license in D.J.’s wallet.
She also told police her husband didn’t want their dog, Magoo, digging in the backyard and that he didn’t want her going back there, either.
Yet she would often find D.J. at a window in the rear of the house, staring into the backyard.
WISHES OF FAMILY
Champagne said a State Police cadaver-detecting dog brought to the property hit on the crawl space immediately and had a second hit in the backyard.
A blood stain was found under the threshold of a hallway door, he said, and DNA testing was under way as the plea deal was negotiated.
He declined to go into detail about what police learned about Dale Sr.’s past, saying only that no one had reported the man missing for five months.
“A number of brothers, sisters and his father claim his death was an accident,” the DA said, adding that D.J.’s grandfather visits him often in jail and that the young man “has great remorse, and his tone and demeanor seem to reflect that.
“For the sake of the community and society, I have to determine what is appropriate and factor in the wishes of the family,” Champagne said. “I feel this was an appropriate compromise.”
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