Shirley Kinge, wrongfully convicted after 1989 Dryden murders, dies at 80

DRYDEN, N.Y. — Shirley Kinge, wrongfully convicted in connection with high-profile murders in Dryden in 1989, died on Sunday at a hospital in Atlanta, according to her attorney. She was 80.

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Kinge was found guilty of burglary, arson and other charges after the murder of Warren and Dolores Harris and their two children, ages 15 and 11. She spent more than two years behind bars before a state police investigator admitted to falsifying evidence by planting Kinge's fingerprint on a gasoline can, overturning her conviction.

Kinge's central role in perhaps the best-known and most controversial criminal case in the history of Tompkins County spurred her move south after her release in 1992, according to Russ Maines, an Ithaca attorney who represented Kinge in civil litigation following her overturned conviction.

Shirley Kinge in 2009. Courtesy of Newschannel9 WSYR

Shirley Kinge in 2009. Courtesy of Newschannel9 WSYR

Though exonerated of her role in the murder and the arson, Kinge admitted to using the victims' credit cards. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanors forgery charges.

Kinge's son, Michael Kinge, was killed in a shoot-out with state police shortly after the murder. Authorities carried a search warrant.

Shirley Kinge was convicted by a jury after a trial in November 1990.

In 1992, State Police Trooper David Harding pleaded guilty to perjury and admitted planting evidence in Kinge’s and other cases, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Harding, who had revealed his misconduct in a job interview with the Central Intelligence Agency, was sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison.

That revelation touched off a widening inquiry into systematic abuses of Troop C at the New York State Police, leading to the convictions of several senior police officials.

In 2009, Kinge was awarded $250,000 in damages by a state court for the "reprehensible conduct" she suffered at the hands of state police, according to The Syracuse Post-Standard.

The judge at the time said in his ruling that Kinge "has not come into this Court with 'clean hands' given her admitted use of the credit card belonging to one of the victims after the quadruple murder," the Post-Standard reported at the time.

Maines, the Ithaca attorney who first covered the Harris trial as a crime reporter for The Ithaca Journal, said that Kinge always recognized she had made a mistake.

"She was as hard on herself as she was on others and as others were on her," said Maines. "What she would tell you is that what she did was stupid."

Still, Maines said that he came to appreciate Kinge as a friend and a good person who had been put under extreme duress by a violent son.

"She wouldn't want to be remembered for anything other than being a private, humble and decent person. And that's precisely what she was," Maines said.

Maines said he learned of Kinge's death in a phone call with Kinge's daughter on Monday morning. Maines said he wasn't sure of the cause of death.

"Shirley was a tough old girl," Maines said. "I thought she had a few more years in her. But she was tired."

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