By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO November 19, 2004 The Kays family had to relive the murder of their beloved son Gary once again.
On August 28, 2001, Ronald "Ronnie" Caruso used a high-powered rifle to kill his 30-year old step-uncle Gary Kays at his home east of Hortonville.
Kays was shot just five days shy of his 31st birthday and died the following day.
In 2002, Caruso was convicted by a Sullivan County jury of first-degree murder, but the verdict was overturned by an appellate court decision on the technical grounds that the jury was not offered a chance to convict the defendant of the lesser crime of manslaughter.
That decision sent shockwaves through the Kays family and outraged Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen.
On Monday, Caruso's second trial for first-degree murder commenced before Sullivan County Judge Frank J. LaBuda.
In the wake of often explicit testimony and after a little more than three hours of deliberations, the jury handed down a unanimous guilty verdict Wednesday evening.
Caruso is scheduled to stand before Judge LaBuda on December 15 for sentencing.
While a conviction of murder in the first degree carries a mininum term of incarceration in state prison of 20 years to life, Caruso faces life behind bars without parole. (Hes also serving a 25-years-to-life sentence for a subsequent murder in Essex County.)
When Judge LaBuda originally sentenced the now twice-convicted first-degree killer, it was for life with the possibility of parole.
Although the Kays were in the courtroom during that final day of testimony, Robert Kays and their two sons had to get back to the family dairy farm to attend to chores.
But Gary Kays mother Linda was there to hear the verdict and watch as a shackled Caruso was once again led out of the courtroom.
"We're somewhat relieved that he got a first-degree murder conviction, because that's what he had before the most he could get," she said in a phone interview yesterday.
Her reaction to reliving the testimony about her son's fatal shooting more than three years ago?
"It meant we had to go through the trial again, and that was very difficult, perhaps more difficult than the first time because it brought everything right back up," she said.
"After three years, you've kind of tucked some of the horror away," said Kays. "This whole trial was total proof over and over again that he deliberately killed our son. . . . Maybe he didn't plan it ahead, but it was a deliberate action."
Kays said during the second trial the prosecution presented an abbreviated version of Gary Kays 911 tape in which jurors heard the beginning in "which he identified himself" and a portion during which her son "said he thought he was dying . . . and the end of it where he named Ronnie . . . and he yelled, Help me!
Kays said it was rough for the family to sit through some of the testimony, particularly when the prosecution "brought out more of the injuries he sustained from the gunshot wounds."
"They talked about that type of rifle could take a bear down in one shot. . . . His arm was virtually blown off . . . and where he was shot in the back, I didn't realize that it broke so many bones and splintered them and severed a vein.
"He literally bled to death," added Linda Kays. "That's where all the trail of blood from the trailer was. . . . The internal bledding got into his lungs. He just had no blood left.
"We miss him, and we wish he was back," said Kays. "I wish the trial could have reversed the whole thing, but at least Ronnie should never be let loose, [because] without a doubt, he would do it again.
"He bought ammunition and was headed down this way," added Kays, referencing her nearby home.
"Hopefully he will be behind bars for the rest of his life and never, never get out," said Kays.
But that is of little comfort.
"It was the waste of a life, but it was an even worse waste of our son's life," she said. "He was a special guy, and we'll miss him forever."