COURT FIGHT LOOMS OVER GATES ESTATE JAILED SON IS HEIR, VICTIM'S FAMILY SAYS

Gary Sheffer Staff writer
Section: LOCAL,  Page: B1

Date: Friday, September 9, 1988

Wyley Gates - imprisoned for conspiracy to murder his father - should inherit his father's estate despite the teenager's claim he does not want to, says the family of shooting victim Cheryl Brahm.


Wyley Gates has petitioned the Columbia County Surrogate Court to renounce his inheritance, but James and Donald Brahm of Niverville contend he is the sole distributee of the estate of Robert Gates Sr. That contention was submitted in connection with the Brahm family's wrongful death lawsuit against Wyley Gates and the Gates estate, according to documents filed in Surrogate Court.


Wyley Gates, now 19, was tried for murder in the Dec. 13, 1986 killings of his father, Robert Gates Sr., 39; his brother, Robert Gates Jr., 19; his cousin, Jason Gates, 3; and his father's girlfriend, Cheryl Brahm, 36, in the Gates' Canaan home.


The former Chatham High School honor student was was acquitted of murder in October 1987 in Columbia County Court but was convicted of a conspiracy in the death of his father. He is serving 8 1/3 to 25 years in state prison at Elmira and is appealing his conviction.


Attorneys for Wyley Gates and his father's estate contend the Brahms' legal actions to determine if he is eligible to inherit his father's estate could amount to a re-trial of Gates in civil court.


Robert Gates Sr., who was divorced, died without a will and left an estate worth $169,555, according to court records. Normally, his estate would go to his children. However, one son was killed in the shootings and the other is Wyley Gates, who may be ineligible by law to inherit his father's estate because of his conspiracy conviction.


On Dec. 28, 1987 - more than a year after the killings - Wyley Gates filed documents in Surrogate Court stating he wished to renounce his inheritance. Attorneys for his father's estate claim that because of the renouncement, the sole distributee of the inheritance is Wyley's paternal grandmother, Vivian Gates.


In the renouncement, Wyley Gates stated that he believed a civil trial would be a "re-trial of the criminal case" and that he was "concerned about the emotional and psychological impact between the various family members and himself."


But the Brahms claim the renouncement is invalid because Gates was required to make it within nine months of his father's death under the state Estates, Powers and Trusts Law. In papers filed by their attorney, Joseph Cutro of Kinderhook, they ask that Wyley Gates be declared the sole distributee of the estate.


Attorneys from the Hudson law firm Connor, Curran and Schram, which represents the Robert Gates Sr. estate, have asked the court to extend the period for filing of the renouncement. The Brahms' attorney opposes the extension.


Wyley Gates' conviction makes him ineligible to inherit his father's estate since a general doctrine of law states that a person cannot benefit from a crime, according to court papers filed by the estate.


The Brahms disagree and have asked for a hearing on his eligibility.


"The proof that is needed for proposed forfeiture is the testimony of petitioner Wyley Gates (or another) that on the evening of Dec. 13, 1986 he did in fact intentionally and feloniously take his father's life," the Brahms contend in court records.


The Brahms also claim that if Gates is insane, as his attorney Charles Wilcox argued at the criminal trial, he may be eligible to inherit the estate. They also request a hearing on that issue.


James Brahm said this week that he and his brother Donald Brahm challenged Gates' renouncement in connection with their wrongful death lawsuit. But he emphasized a more important motivation came from being "taxpaying citizens."


"We do not think it is right that the county is paying for his appeal and for his education," said Brahm.


The state Supreme Court Appellate Division in February granted Gates' request to proceed as a poor person, meaning taxpayers will pay for his appeal. Gates is also enrolled as a full- time student at Corning Community College at county expense.


The wrongful death suit was filed in state Supreme Court by Donald and James Brahm, as brothers and administrators of the estate of Cheryl Brahm. Named as defendants are Robert Gates Sr.'s sister, Viki Lynn Hatch, as administratrix of the estate, Wyley Gates, Damian Rossney and, Rossney's father, Paul Rossney.


Though murder charges involving Cheryl Brahm and Jason Gates against him have been dropped, Damian Rossney, 18, still faces two counts of second- degree murder in the deaths of Robert Gates Sr. and Robert Gates Jr. and is scheduled to go on trial this year.


Another result of the Brahms' actions could be the satisfaction in civil courts that they did not find in criminal court if the judges rule in their favor.


The burden of proof in civil court - by a preponderance of the evidence - is less than in criminal court where guilt must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt."


In fact, attorneys for the Robert Gates Sr. estate argue in court papers that "with a lesser burden of proof and without the constitutional limitations which apply to law enforcement officers in a criminal proceeding, including the alleged confession of Wyley Gates, it is likely that Wyley Gates will be found to have caused the murder of his father and other victims at the Robert Gates Sr. residence."


Any finding in civil court would have no bearing on Gates' acquittal because he is protected against double jeopardy by the U.S. Constitution.


The Brahms' wrongful death suit claims that Wyley Gates killed Cheryl Brahm by shooting her four times with a .9mm Walther PPK pistol and that she suffered "great pain" due to shooting. It also contends that the Brahms' mother, Florence Brahm, has lost the companionship and support of her daughter.


In addition, it alleges that Robert Gates Sr. was negligent in allowing Wyley Gates to have possession of the murder weapon and bullets. It makes the same claim against Rossney's father, Paul Rossney of Ossining.


Rossney was staying with his uncle, Stanley Joseph, in Canaan at the time of the killings and is now living in Ossining.


The suit includes seven causes of action against Wyley Gates totalling $1.355 million; three against the estate totalling, $600,000; six against Damian Rossney totalling $1.350 million; three against Paul Rossney totalling $600,000; and three against Damian Rossney and Wyley Gates totalling $750,000.


Attorneys representing the Robert Gates Sr. estate and the Brahms refused to comment.


The court record also includes a notice of claim filed by an attorney for Jason Gates' grandparents, Nicholas and Delores Groudas of East Chatham, that a wrongful death action will be filed against the Robert Gates Sr. estate.


The case is before Columbia County Judge John Leaman, who presided over the Gates criminal trial.