Charlene Mess was sentenced today to 25 years in prison for the death of her husband Douglas Mess. The sentence was handed down in Wyoming County Court this morning, 14 months after Doug’s body was found stabbed, shot and buried in a manure pile on the farm the couple owned and worked in Attica.
On April 21, 2015, Charlene was charged with: murder in the second degree, a Class A felony; criminal use of a firearm in the first degree, a Class B felony; assault in the first degree, a Class B felony; assault in the second degree, a Class D felony; tampering with physical evidence, a Class E felony; offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, a Class E felony; and making a punishable false written statement, a Class A misdemeanor.
On April 28, she pled guilty to manslaughter in the first degree.
Charlene stood, with the help of Assistant Public Defender Greg Kilburn, when asked if she would like to speak before the judge imposed her sentence.
She stood mute.
District Attorney Donald O’Geen reflected on the point, saying that that “reflects the nature of her mind.”
“In a murder case, you don’t ever expect anyone to not at least have remorse, or show some sort of compassion,” O’Geen said. “She refuses to acknowledge what she did. She couldn’t even say she was sorry to the family.”
“You admitted to killing Douglas Mess, the father of your three children,” said Judge Michael Mohun during sentencing. “You caused his death with a gunshot wound to the head. You took him, trussed by rope, to a manure pile and buried him. Law enforcement was told you had no knowledge of his whereabouts...The death of Douglas Mess resonates with the community...with the children that lost their father. The court sentences you to 25 years in prison with five years post-release supervision for the death of Douglas Mess.”
Her face bore an expressionless mask, which a curtain of lomg white hair partially obscured. She walked in with shackles secured around her ankles tethered by chains to the handcuffs around her wrists. In the rows of seats behind her, the hushed murmurs of family and friends of Doug rippled throughout the courtroom in tense anticipation.
Those affected by the death of the 52-year-old farmer were given an opportunity to address the court prior to sentencing. Laura Scott, Douglas’s older sister, took to the podium.
“The day I got the call, my gut instinct was ‘What did she do?’ But I told myself not to jump to conclusions,” Scott said. “Doug was a good man, a good-hearted and easy-going person. He wouldn’t hurt anyone, especially his sons. It’s been a rough year. They lost their father to a murder and the most difficult part was that their mother did it.
“You had an opportunity to save Doug’s life after you hit him with the pitchfork. You didn’t have to shoot him.”
Scott went on to tell the court about Charlene’s “fits of rage” and “viciousness” toward her sons.
“I have heard more about the abuse you inflicted on my brother after his murder. Doug would never hit you. Your upbringing made you into the hateful monster that you are. You have no guilt to what you have done. It is horrifying what you’ve done. My brother said you were unfaithful and you had the nerve to be mad?
“I miss my brother’s humor...his bear hugs. I wish he told me, his big sister, the pain that was going on in his life. You are a danger to your sons. I wish you were locked away forever. I ask that you (the court) impose the maximum sentence.”
Thomas Stroud, a good friend to Doug, spoke next.
“The question that has haunted me for the past year is why? Why was it necessary to take his life? Why take a father, brother, uncle, coworker, neighbor...a dear and loyal friend? He gave some much of himself to others. You took so much from so many. Only Charlene and God really knows what happened that night in the barn, everyone else is left with the results, and the boys are left with the financial and emotional impact put on (them) by their own mother.
“Doug’s murder affected both the family and the community,” Stroud said. “Someday Charlene will stand before another judge and she will have to ask God for His mercy and grace. She needs to ask for forgiveness.”
Charlene sat at the defense table with her head hung down, silent, blank, seemingly showing no impact of what Stroud and Scott had to say.
“She definitely loved her animals, so much so that she killed her husband,” O’Geen said. “Shortly before his death, Doug was looking into filing for divorce. He was sick of her alcoholism, her abuse, her lack of help on the farm. The divorce would have caused her to lose her animals and she couldn’t take that.”
The DA went on to outline the events of the evening of April 19, 2015:
Charlene Mess struck Doug three times in the chest with a pitchfork. All of his injuries were incurred while he was alive. She wasn’t in any danger. After he was knocked unconscious, she went to the house, got her gun, put bullets in the gun, went back out into the barn, placed the gun to the back of Doug’s head and shot him.
She then bound his hands and tied his feet together, she dragged him out of the barn with one of their tractors. She then moved the body with a skidster to the manure pile and buried him. She knew that manure would decompose a body quick. She wanted him to decompose quick so no one would find him. After burying him, she continued on with her chores. Next, she created and fostered a missing persons story.
She went to bed, got up the next day and went about her chores.
Their son Doug called 9-1-1 April 20 to report his father missing after he failed to show up for work.
At the same moment she was being interviewed by State Troopers, the whole family was worried about Doug. She was telling the troopers....she said Doug had received a call from his employer Baskin’s Livestock (April 19), left the house and got back around 5 p.m.. She said she was doing her chores and thought Doug was in the lower barn. She went into the house to do some work, came back out to continue milking then went to bed. She had said Doug had not gotten home yet.
She got up the next morning (April 20) and went about her day. She let the ruse play out for hours while everyone was out looking for him. She didn’t think anyone would find him. He was found – dead, buried in a pile of manure.
“Her behavior from the beginning has been a complete acting job,” O’Geen said. “She faked the childlike behavior. She faked the shaking. She faked it when she was interviewed by two different psychologists. In the probation report, it states that the act was calculated and planned and recommended the maximum sentence of 25 years. The defendant had difficulty putting animals down, yet she had no issue with taking a human life. The District Attorney’s Office asked for a 25-year sentence for the cold, calculated killing of Douglas Mess.”
Defense Attorney Public Defender Greg Killburn asked the court to look at the whole of Charlene’s life.
“She has worked hard all her life. She’s a law-abiding, hard-working woman. But below the surface there was tension building. Months before the incident she told her doctor that she felt like she was going to explode. The evidence doesn’t show that it (the murder) was planned...that day, the pressure just exploded. We ask that you impose a sentence that represents her life as a whole and ask for the court’s mercy.”
When Mohun handed down the sentence he offered no mercy. An audible sound of gratitude emanated from the courtroom. He told Charlene she took away “a father, a brother, friend and a community member.”
“The sentence was what we had hoped for,” O’Geen said. “It was a horrific crime. Charlene went through extensive measures to hide the body intentionally to get rid of it quickly. When he couldn’t defend himself, she got the gun. The coroner’s report states that the gun was in close contact with his head. She claimed it happened because Doug grabbed her. There was no evidence to suggest violence from him.
"Yes, they may have argued about her alcoholism and not doing her job, but there is nothing to suggest that Doug was violent toward Charlene. The evidence shows that he was abused by her. He wanted out of an abusive relationship. Based on the evidence, the one constant was with animals. It’s interesting that animals were more important than a human life.”
See related: Charlene Mess admits to killing her husband Douglas Mess
UPDATE 7:20 p.m.: In a statement released by the DA's Office, O'Geen said, "I want to thank the members of the New York State Police, especially the major crime unit, for leading this investigation; along with assistance from members of the Wyoming County Sheriff’s Office, the Attica Fire Department, Wyoming County Emergency Management, the Coroner’s Office and the many others who helped bring the Mess family justice in this case.
"In cases like this, collaboration of resources and cross-agency cooperation is key to the final result. This sentence will not bring Doug back to his family but at least it will keep his killer away from society for a very long time. The family will now go forward remembering Doug as a hardworking, gentle and kind man who was always there for his family and community. I wish them all strength during this difficult time.”