John Caher The Knickerbocker News
Section: MAIN,  Page: 3A

Date: Tuesday, July 21, 1987

On a chilly Saturday evening last December, Vivian Gates' son and two grandchildren were murdered and another grandchild was arrested and charged in the slayings.

But the Dec. 13 Canaan massacre was only the latest in a series of family tragedies the woman has encountered. Since 1971, she has lost her husband, two children, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. Another son is brain-damaged. "You just have to have faith in God," sighed the soft-spoken Maple Drive resident whose husband, Louis III, died six years ago. "I don't understand it myself."

Steven Gates, Vivian's now 36-year-old son, was in Richmond, Mass., in 1971 when an automobile accident left him with permanent brain damage. He has been confined to either Veterans Administration hospitals or nursing homes ever since and currently lives at the Haywood Valley Nursing Home in Worcester, Mass.

Fourteen years later, her son and daughter-in- law, Dane and Georgia Gates, were killed in a fiery car crash off Peaceful Valley Road in Canaan. They left behind a 2-year-old son named Jason. Vivian Gates was fighting for custody of the child when he died.

Another grandson, Wyley Gates, will be tried in Columbia County Court on charges he killed his 3-year-old cousin Jason, and three others, including Vivian Gates' son, Robert Gates Sr., 39; another grandson, Robert Gates Jr., 19, and her son's girlfriend, Cheryl Braham, 36. The mother of the defendant was divorced from Robert Gates Sr. and lives in California.

Gates, who faces eight counts of second-degree murder and related charges, will go on trial soon before Columbia County Judge John G. Leaman. If convicted, he could be sentenced to a maximum 25-year-to-life prison term.

Defense attorney Charles J. Wilcox has indicated he may try to prove the defendant was not responsible for the murders because of mental disease or defect. Such a finding by the jury could land Gates in a secure mental facility until he is no longer considered a threat to society.

Authorities allege Gates hid the murder weapon - a pistol stolen from the Gates home Dec. 4, 1986 - at the home of co-defendant Damian Rossney shortly after the shootings and then went to a Clint Eastwood movie. When Wyley came home and discovered or pretended to discover the bodies, he went to his grandmother for help, officials say.

Vivian Gates has stood by her grandson throughout the saga, providing emotional assistance and agreeing to use some of her son Robert's assets to pay for Wyley's defense. Court records indicate several of the survivors have agreed to use some of Robert Gates' profit- sharing funds from Hudson Handling Co. of Claverack to help cover defense costs.

She said she planned to attend the trial, with emotional assistance from her sons William Gates, of Massena, St. Lawrence County, and Louis Gates IV of San Diego and a daughter, Viki Lynn Hatch of Sharon Springs, Schoharie County.

Jury selection was scheduled to begin this week, but has been delayed until at least Monday as pretrial hearings are taking longer than anticipated, said Columbia County District Attorney Eugene Keeler. Keeler and defense attorney Wilcox, of Troy, have been arguing in closed-door proceedings over the admissibility of evidence and other issues.

Keeler is expected to ask to have admitted a statement Wyley Gates reportedly made to police indicating he hated his father and thought his brother was a "nerd," investigative sources have said.