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For Albany, N.Y., defense attorney Terence L. Kindlon, the death penalty hits too close to home. Seventy-nine years ago, Kindlon’s cousin died in New York’s electric chair for what amounted to felony murder. And while Thomas Kindlon, 23, died long before Terence Kindlon was born, the incident had a profound impact on the lawyer’s view of capital punishment. A decorated and combat-scarred Marine veteran, Kindlon, 55, has always opposed the death penalty. “I grew up surrounded by people who were of the traditional death penalty supporter type — conservative, Irish Catholic law-and-order people, many of them first generation immigrants who worked with their hands,” said Kindlon, a capital-qualified defender now serving as lead counsel in a federal death penalty prosecution in Binghamton, N.Y. “They all felt the death penalty was completely wrong and immoral and unjust because one of them had gotten it. They knew it was wrong, and I grew up with that.” Thomas Kindlon and co-defendant Thomas Lester, 21, were condemned for the murder of an Albany shopkeeper. Ironically, the district attorney at the time was the grandfather of Albany County Court Judge Stephen W. Herrick. Kindlon is a frequent visitor to Judge Herrick’s courtroom, and the two are old friends. Although Thomas Kindlon was apparently not the shooter in a botched candy store robbery, he and Lester, also not the shooter, were electrocuted in Sing Sing. The triggerman avoided the death penalty, and was paroled. Pulitzer Prize winning author William Kennedy mentions the executions in “O Albany!” his ethnic/ political portrayal of the capital city. The story of Thomas Kindlon was, and is, a source of lingering Kindlon family resentment. But Kindlon never bothered to delve deeply into the details until about a decade ago, when he took an Alabama capital appeal. Kindlon’s first death penalty case renewed his curiosity in Thomas Kindlon’s predicament and led him to the local library’s morgue of old newspapers. What Kindlon found raises goose bumps: A detailed description by the reporter who witnessed the execution. The evening prior to the execution, Thomas Kindlon’s “distracted and haggard looking” father approached Gov. Alfred E. Smith, whom he encountered at the train station, according to the June 7, 1923, Albany Times-Union. “The governor refused to discuss the case and the condemned boy’s father thrust a note into his hands,” the paper reported. “The governor’s lips trembled and he turned away his head, but he spoke to the elder Kindlon firmly, saying, ‘I have considered the case thoroughly, Kindlon, and I can do nothing further.’ The train pulled out and the disappointed father slowly trudged his way out of the station, the dumb look of despair in his eyes something more than pitiable to behold.” EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT The next night, Times-Union writer James T. Healey was present at Sing Sing when the convicts, still denying guilt and implicating three other youths, were put to death. “Both boys went to the chair with smiles on their wan faces and protestations of innocence on their lips, mingled with pious appeals to the Holy Family to sustain them in their last hour,” Healey wrote. “The two died like men, appealing for pity to nobody but their Maker, holding malice against none, forgiving all, only asking that their dying statement be accepted and published as the truth.” Thomas Kindlon was brought in first. This is Healey’s account of what transpired: “The door swung open and the condemned youth, halting the fraction of a second to blink away the effects of the strong light, smiled at the spectators and the prison officials. Quickly he took his seat in the chair and guards adjusted the straps and headpiece. “‘Fellows,’ said Kindlon in strong, clear tones, ‘I’m innocent. I am going with a smile. I can say right now I don’t know anything about this murder.’ “‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in this, my last hour,’ chanted the priest. “‘Well, good-bye everybody,’ said the man in the chair — and then he repeated the words of the chaplain, reverently, but with a firm voice. “As the prisoner began for the second time the answering chant, the switch was thrown on in an adjoining room. The pluf [sic] of the contact and a droning hum which mixed strangely with the utterances of Father Cashin, ‘My Lord and my God — My Lord and my God!’ were the only sounds audible. The shock threw the body a bit against the stout straps, but there was no sound from the man and kind unconsciousness came instantly. The contact was shut off for a moment and then thrown on again. Two minutes later the physician, having completed his examination, remarked curtly, ‘I pronounce this man dead.’” Terence Kindlon, of Albany’s Kindlon and Shanks, said he grew up with a “moral certainty that the death penalty was wrong,” and his research into the Thomas Kindlon matter only affirmed that belief. “With me, it has a very deep emotional base, what one of my philosophy teachers used to call the ‘mythic level’; it goes down as far as I can see inside my mind,” said Kindlon, a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam whose military career came to an unconscious end during the Tet Offense, when he took a shell to the forehead. “I knew all the rest of my relatives, and they were nice people. This guy was just like them and got himself caught up in a crazy situation. As I reflected on it, I couldn’t see how society was better off because one guy named Thomas Kindlon got put in the chair in 1923.”

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