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December 12, 2013

Sisters of murder victims find bond

Separated by a county border and 35 miles of roads, Patricia Berg of Norwich and Jennifer Kirkpatrick of Oneonta have bonded after both experienced the painful loss of a beloved sister as the result of a gruesome homicide.

The two women said they are also united in their belief that the state parole board should not be releasing criminals serving sentences of 25 years to life in prison for the most heinous crimes on the books — A-1 violent felonies such as intentional murder and murder by depraved indifference to human life.

Berg and Kirkpatrick became acquainted in recent days after The Daily Star last week chronicled Kirkpatrick’s efforts to fight convicted killer David Dart’s release from Otisville state prison. He is serving 25 years to life for the 1989 stabbing murder of Kirkpatrick’s sister, Gillian Gibbons, inside the municipal parking garage in downtown Oneonta.

For Berg, the story of a young sister being killed — Gibbons was 18 years old when a 17-inch survival knife was repeatedly plunged into her body, and Berg’s sister, Wendy Cooper, was 16 years old when she was stripped naked and fatally bludgeoned with a rock — hit close to home.

Too close, she said.

Berg told The Daily Star that she wants to use what she called her own upsetting experiences with the state Parole Board to assist Kirkpatrick in convincing the board to keep Dart, 44, behind bars.

Wendy Cooper was walking home from school and had just had her braces removed when she was accosted in Norwich in 1974 by Stephen D. Pierce. He drove her to his mother’s property in Plymouth, where he brutally killed her after removing her clothing. The girl’s battered body was discovered inside a station wagon owned by Pierce’s mother. The killer later explained in response to questions that he began hitting the girl with a rock because she was screaming and he decided to silence her, Berg recalled.

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