Accused killers appear in town court

Left, Kevin Gardener (rear) and Maurice Stansberry Jr. leave court; right, Maurice Stansberry Sr. enters court. (Photos by Jesse J. Smith)

A father, his teenage son and a third teen are accused in the shooting death of a Kingston man on an isolated stretch of Sawkill Road over the weekend.

Police say the incident occurred just before noon on Saturday, Dec. 1 near 341 Sawkill Road, adjacent to the Boice farm. Police say Maurice Stansberry, 38, of Kingston, his son, Maurice Stansberry Jr., 17, and Kevin Gardener, also 17 and also of Kingston, got into an altercation with Mark Lancaster and an unidentified witness. (On social media, several people claiming to be friends and family of Lancaster said that the witness was Lancaster’s own 17-year-old son, a fact corroborated by one source close to the investigation.) Police say both parties were parked off the roadway when the dispute took place.

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According to police, the elder Stansberry shot Lancaster through the torso, leaving him mortally wounded. Lancaster was later transported to HealthAlliance Hospital Broadway Campus, where he was pronounced dead. 

The killing and subsequent hunt for the suspects triggered a massive, multi-agency police response Saturday afternoon. Sawkill Road was closed between Route 209 and Washington Avenue. Heavily armed tactical teams staged in a parking lot on Hurley Avenue and conducted a search in the adjacent Stony Run apartment complex.

According to state police records, one of the teen suspects was arrested at the crime scene 20 minutes after the shooting. A second was arrested at an undisclosed location in Kingston at 9:23 p.m. the night of the shooting. Stansberry Sr. was arrested in Kingston at 7:08 p.m.

All three suspects were arraigned in Ulster Town Court on charges of second-degree murder and jailed without bail. On Tuesday, Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright said state police investigators had zeroed in on a motive for the crime, but he declined further comment pending the presentation of the case to a grand jury.

“These parties were known to each other,” said Carnright. “This was not a random act.” 

On Tuesday, all three suspects appeared in court for a hearing before Town Court Judge Marsha Weiss. Last year, Stansberry Jr. played on the Kingston High School football team. In May, he made the school’s honor roll. A number of KHS students, as well as friends and family of the defendants, packed the courtroom during the hearing and stood outside in clusters speaking in hushed tones and crying. 

Inside the courtroom, closely guarded by sheriff’s deputies and Town of Ulster officers, the Stansberrys and Gardener appeared before Weiss at a hearing to determine if they had counsel and whether they wanted a preliminary hearing. All three men remained expressionless during the hearing. At one point Stansberry Sr. tilted his head back and appeared to doze off. 

Gardener, who was represented by attorney Paul Gruner, and Stansberry Jr., represented by attorney Joe O’Connor, opted to forgo the preliminary hearing — where prosecutors must reveal enough evidence to convince a judge that the defendants’ continued detention is justified — after being informed by Assistant District Attorney Margot Hanstein that the case was likely to go before a grand jury on Thursday, Dec. 6.

Public defender Andrew Kossover, who represents Stansberry Sr., opted for a preliminary hearing on Friday, Dec. 7 at 9 a.m. Kossover said he and his client decided to proceed with the hearing after Hanstein declined to turn over video in support of the prosecution’s case.

Following the hearing, all three suspects were returned to the Ulster County Jail without bail.

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