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: Remembering Kenny By Leon Thompson - Messenger Staff Writer  ( 5032 )
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« : July 08, 2006, 05:52:51 PM »

Friday July 7, 2006

Remembering Kenny

Family, friends mourn murdered farm worker on anniversary of death

By LEON THOMPSON | Messenger Staff Writer

SHELDON –– Young Kenny Jerome wanted desperately to go with his neighbors to their summer camp on the lake. He used everything in his boyish arsenal to get his way – that infectious smile, that happy-go-lucky attitude, a joke or two – but his mother, Lois, wouldn’t budge.

“Not unless you wear a life jacket,” she demanded.

“But Moooooom …”

“OK,” she said. “Then you don’t go.”

Lois was protective of her children. She never left Kenny and his only sibling, Clark, with a babysitter.

“You think you can protect them forever,” she said Wednesday, as she peered at pictures of a grown-up Kenny holding his baby daughter, Kaitlyn. “Then you find out you can’t.”

Tonight, Lois will gather with Kenny’s closest friends and relatives at his grave in Binghamville, a tiny town near Fletcher that Lois calls home.

A year ago today, someone fired a single shot from a .22-caliber rifle – about 80 yards from where Kenny fed cattle at Diamond Hill Custom Heifers Farm, in Sheldon – and killed him. Right there. On the spot. In the chest.

He was 33.

Theories abound as to who killed Kenny Jerome, and why. Potential suspects’ names pepper the conversations about his death, but police have made no arrests. The case is still open. The investigation continues.

“It was either someone hired professionally, or a really good shot,” said Terry Magnan, Diamond Hill owner, as he stared at the spot from where the bullet flew: a rock ledge owned by his neighbor, Stephen Harrness.

“You could try that shot 10 times and maybe get lucky twice, especially with a .22,” Terry said. “But to do it once and kill a man? That’s bizarre.”

Kenny and his girlfriend, Jennifer Miller – Kaitlyn’s mother – had a heated history with Stephen Harrness and his sons, Dennis and Thomas. Jennifer, Dennis’ ex-wife, helped the state eventually convict Dennis of arson-related charges. He is in prison.

Jennifer claimed the Harrnesses plotted for years to burn their own property and collect insurance money. Thomas was eventually convicted of threatening another key witness.

Court records allege that members of the Harrness family, including Stephen, threatened Jennifer and Kenny during some portions of the arson hearings – in and out of court.

After Kenny’s death, Vermont State Police (VSP) seized Dennis Harrness’ truck, then returned it to him. Police are still holding Stephen Harrness’ guns, which they also collected after executing a search warrant.

Stephen has a .22 in his cache, but ballistics tests showed the lethal bullet was not from that gun, according to VSP Det. Sgt. Kirk Cooper, lead investigator in the case.
Police have not found the murder weapon – the key piece of evidence they need for an arrest.

“We’re still looking for people that have information,” Cooper said. He still follows leads in the case and has conducted dozens of interviews.

“There’s somebody out there who has a piece of information that they need to come out with,” Cooper said, “and we need it. We need them.”

Contacted by the Messenger today, Stephen Harrness made just one statement: “I think if you let the police do their work, my family will be cleared of all accusations.”

A nice kid

Lois composed herself well this week as she sat in Terry and Joann Magnan’s kitchen and remembered Kenny. She flipped through some photos of him. Her favorites are the ones of Kenny with Kaitlyn – now approaching 2 – and Jennifer’s other daughter, Mikayla, 5.

“You don’t lose your kids,” said Lois, whose father died within the past two weeks. He was ill. He was 85.

“Your kids don’t die ahead of you,” she continued. “It’s not natural. And now Kaitlyn won’t know her father. That was the one big thing in his life – that baby.”

“Don’t worry,” Joann said. “He’s watching her.”

Lois loved watching her sons tear around their family’s farms during the 1980s. For about a decade, she and her husband, Clark, rented various farms, until they capitalized on a federal government cattle buyout that was activated to reduce milk production and improve prices.

The younger Clark played sports while he attended BFA-Fairfax. Not Kenny. He worked on farms and spent time with his first love – anything with a motor. He constantly talked about cars and had three Ford Mustangs when he died. Jennifer and her girls own the cars now.

Kenny was also a tease. Lois was his favorite target.

“Don’t forget, Mom,” he’d say, when he didn’t get his way. “I’m the one who’ll pick out your nursing home.”

In March 1997, Justin Magnan introduced Kenny to his aunt and uncle, Terry and Joann. Terry needed help on the farm. Kenny needed work. It was a perfect fit.

“He seemed like a nice, clean-cut kid,” Terry recalled.

“He had a lot to offer,” Joann added.

Jennifer Miller also worked for the Magnans then. Now living in Royalton, her hometown – because “it was too hard” to stay in Sheldon – she described Kenny as a cut-up with a secretive romantic side. He loved to ride snow machines with his friends, Jennifer said.

Jennifer and Kenny often discussed marriage and owning their own home.

“I would have married him in a heartbeat,” she said.

“And Kenny would have been a lifer at the Magnan farm. If he were still alive, I’d still be there.”

Kenny bonded with the Magnans quickly, even if Joann couldn’t convince him to eat green vegetables. He was a French fries and Pepsi guy; his diet wasn’t his strong point.

“They treated him like he was their son in a lot of ways,” Lois said, noting that Kenny revered Terry and spoke highly of his gentle ways with his workers.

“I really like Terry,” Kenny once told Lois. “He never gets mad. He never gets upset. He’s always the same temperament.”

Not on July 7, 2005.

Two days earlier, Lois had called Kenny and informed him she would be on Nantucket Island for vacation, with a friend from Florida.

“OK, Mom,” he said. “I’ll see you when you get back.”

‘Call 911!’

The day he died, Kenny Jerome arrived at Diamond Hill around 8 a.m. – his usual time – and shot straight for the barn to feed the Magnans’ herd, his main duty.

Terry and his other farmhands, Travis Callan and Alex Smith, headed to the Magnans’ other barn, just a short distance away on East Sheldon Road.

“When you get done feeding,” Terry told Kenny before he left, “come give us a hand to finish up.”

It was 10 a.m.

12:30 arrived.

No Kenny.

Thinking Kenny might have encountered equipment problems – a daily occurrence on most dairy farms – Terry went to see if he needed help. Travis and Alex followed. They started on other chores, while Terry looked for Kenny near the feed mixer.

Kenny wasn’t there.

Perhaps he was cleaning the cow bunk.

Still no Kenny.

“He must have needed a part for the mixer,” Terry thought. “He must have gone to town to …”

Then Terry saw him – lying face down on a dirt path between the cow bunk and a high patch of grass. The tractor idled. Kenny was still.

Terry ran to him. Kenny wasn’t breathing.

Terry screamed. “Travis! Alex!”

He sped to his house.

“Call 911!” he yelled to Joann. “It’s Kenny!”

Everyone thought it was Kenny’s heart. The paramedics arrived. Terry helped turn him over. That’s when they saw the bullet hole; it had pierced the right side of his body, collapsed his lung and hit his heart. No one had heard the gunfire.

Diamond Hill was suddenly a crime scene.

Police with search dogs combed surrounding fields with metal detectors, looking for evidence.

“I’m hopeful an arrest will be coming soon,” Franklin County State’s Attorney Jim Hughes said that day. “We need to find hard evidence to link any suspect to the shooting. They (investigators) are trying to figure out potential motives.”

Meanwhile, Jennifer Miller saw two VSP officers walk up the driveway of the home she shared with Kenny, on Magnan property. She thought they wanted to discuss the Harrnesses with her again.

“Do you know a Kenny Jerome?” an officer asked.

“Yes,” Jennifer said.

They told her what happened. Harshly, she told them the joke wasn’t funny.

Even now, the rest of that day is still a blur to her.

Shortly after police delivered the news to Jennifer, Lois’ phone rang in her hotel room. It was her other son.

“There’s been an accident,” Clark said.

“What kind?” Lois asked.

“Involving Kenny.”

She knew he was dead. She didn’t know how. Her first thought: “Get me off this stupid island.” A licensed pilot, she considered flying off herself, until she realized she was too distraught to take off.

Instead, she hopped a puddle-jumper to Boston and waited two harrowing hours for a flight to Burlington, where her sisters, Beverly Hall and Alice Giroux, met her.

“What happened?” Lois asked immediately.

“He’s been murdered,” Alice replied.

“I had no idea anything was going on,” Lois said this week.

Kenny never told his mother about the alleged threats against him, or the arson charges that involved Jennifer Miller. A short time before he died, Lois said, Kenny told her someone had tried to run him off the road with a red pick-up truck.

“That’s all I ever really heard about anything,” Lois said.

She and the Magnans believe investigators are doing their best to solve Kenny’s murder. Det. Sgt. Cooper is frustrated; he wants closure for Kenny’s family.

Kenny never feared for his life. He just enjoyed it.

“If I had known more,” Lois said in the Magnans’ kitchen, “I would have told him to get out of here, even if it meant getting a new job.”

There was a pregnant pause, until Joann muttered what was obvious to her.

“I don’t know if he would have gone.”
--- --- ---
Terry and Joann Magnan have established a reward fund for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for Kenny Jerome’s death. To date, the reward total is $9,000. To donate, call 933-2071. Anyone with more information about the murder should contact VSP Det. Sgt. Kirk Cooper at 524-5993.

Henry Raymond
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