By Joe Mahoney The Daily Star
---- — In the fall after she turned 18 years old, Milford High School graduate Gillian “Jill” Gibbons packed her bags to get ready to attend a school for aspiring airline flight attendants.
She never got there.
She and her older sister, Jennifer Kirkpatrick, a young mother then living in Oneonta, were both working at what was then called the Rose Ave. Country Club in Oneonta. On the night of Sept. 12, 1989, Gibbons did not arrive to relieve her. And the older sister became worried. They had no cell phones back then, Kirkpatrick recalled in an interview.
Several hours after frantically calling everyone she could think of who had been acquainted with her kid sister, Kirkpatrick determined that her last movements were to go to the State University at Delhi campus that day to drop off a friend, returning later in the day to visit her mother who was working then at the Bresee’s department store.
While driving past the municipal parking garage in downtown Oneonta, Kirpatrick spotted a sheriff’s deputy standing near the entrance and decided to go into the lot to look around. There, in the darkness, she saw her sister’s car. At that point, she had hoped, her sister had simply gone out on the town to enjoy the company of friends. But she said Wednesday she was very worried because it was not like her sister to skip work without telling anyone.
Assuming the car was locked, she tugged the door handle hard. Too hard, she quickly discovered, because it wasn’t locked at all. It opened right up, and there sprawled across the front seat, her head on the driver’s seat and her feet on the passenger seat, was the body of Gillian Gibbons.
An autopsy would later determine she was stabbed to death. The weapon, a 17-inch survival knife, was discovered by detectives in a Portlandville pond, precisely where police said David Dart, then 20 years old, told investigators they would find it.
“I felt her face, and it was cold,” Kirkpatrick recalled. Frantic, she left the garage and flagged down the first police officer she encountered and began screaming. Having no idea why she was so upset, the officer, she recalled, advised her to calm down so could understand what she was trying to communicate.
Since that day, Kirkpatrick has told her story again and again, each time re-living the nightmare. Now she is preparing to tell it again as the state parole board gets ready to consider the early release application of David Dart, now serving 25 years to life at medium-security Otisville state prison for Gibbons’ murder.
Kirkpatrick said she had signed up on the state’s web site for crime victims who want to be informed about such parole hearings. But it wasn’t until Monday, she said, that she discovered the hearing was scheduled to take place this week. And that was only through the efforts of Otsego County Judge Brian Burns, whose office had received a correspondence from the Otisville prison on Nov. 14, indicating that a parole hearing would soon be held for Dart. Burns contacted a friend who knew Kirkpatrick and relayed the information so the victim’s family could be made aware of the upcoming proceeding.
But no one from the state ever reached out to Gillian Gibbons’ family to let them know that Dart’s first parole hearing had been placed on the prison system calendar, Kirkpatrick said.
“I was blindsided,” she said. “I think the court was blind-sided as well. I feel like I have been abandoned by the system.”
She said she learned that the hearing was postponed after a reporter for The Daily Star contacted the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and made inquiries about the scheduled parole hearing. When that inquiry was made, Linda Foglia, a spokeswoman for the agency, said she could only confirm that the parole hearing was scheduled for this week, but was constrained from providing the specific date.
Foglia said the decision on whether parole would be granted or denied would be provided once the decision was served upon the inmate. Foglia then confirmed the hearing was postponed because Dart’s file was “incomplete.”
“The postponement will provide the Otsego County Judge, District Attorney, and Public Defender the minimum 30-day period to respond to our Oct. 31, 2013 letter seeking their statement or recommendation in regard to David Dart’s parole board appearance.”
She said she could not provide details on the agency’s efforts to contact Jennifer Kirkpatrick and other relatives because victim information is kept confidential.
Kirkpatrick said she isn’t worried about her confidentiality. In fact, she said, she and friends of her murdered sister have launched a Facebook group designed to attract attention to Dart’s request for parole. The page is called Stop PAROLE of Gillian’s Murderer. As of 11 a.m. Thursday, the group was joined by 553 people.
“David Dart is a sociopath,” said Kirkpatrick, noting that she and other people raised in Milford knew he had been confined in juvenile facility after he was implicated in the knifepoint assault of a young girl several years before the murder. Other people told police investigators that Dart was dangerous, including a woman who said she recognized him lurking in the same garage two days before the murder, according to testimony in the case.
According to the trial records, Dart, who will turn 45 years old in January, broke down and confessed to the murder at the Oneonta police station when he was informed that an eyewitness placed him in the municipal garage at a time when the suspect insisted he was 30 miles away.
After Dart was convicted of the killing, a state appellate court ruled he got a fair trail and found there was no merit to his claim that his confession was involuntary.
Kirkpatrick said she knew that Dart would some day be eligible for parole. But she said she believed that 25 years in prison meant 25 years. Dart is eligible to be released from custody next September.
“I can’t believe how close of a call we just had,” she said.
According to state statistics obtained by The Daily Star, about one in eight inmates serving time for A-1 violent felony offenses, a category that includes second-degree murder, are granted release upon their first appearance before the parole board.
Kirkpatrick said she was surprised to find out that state officials are now housing Dart in a medium-security prison rather than a more-secure facility.
She recalled that after Dart was convicted at trial and was being ushered out of the courthouse in Cooperstown, he stared at her and muttered, “I’ll be back.”
A couple of years earlier, she said she had her own upsetting encounters with Dart while both were working together at a local factory.
At one point, she said, Dart passed her a hand-scrawled note, asking, “If I told you you had a nice body, would it freak you out?”
Not a day has gone by since the crime that Kirkpatrick said she has not recalled the vibrancy of her sister’s life. The murder has also made her extremely protective of her own children, she noted.
“Gillian was everything to everybody, and she always a compassionate person,” said Kirkpatrick, the office manager for the soon-to-open Otsego Dental Care. “There was no stopping her. She was on the road to success, no matter what she decided to do. But because of what happened she never got to have a first love. She never got to have a career. She never got to be a mother. And my children have been robbed of their aunt.”
Kirkpatrick said she is now scheduled to present her victim impact statement to the parole board on Dec. 13.