FONDA — Following his capture over the weekend, Michael Darling, 44, of Gloversville, was arraigned on Tuesday on charges contained in a four-count indictment accusing him of killing his estranged wife, Kristine Howland Darling, and staging her death to appear as a suicide in 2019.
Darling, wearing orange prison clothing, entered a plea of not guilty during his arraignment in Montgomery County Court. Attorney Michael Viscosi, of the public defender’s office, represented him and waived the reading of the indictment.
Judge Chad Brown remanded Darling to the custody of the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. Viscosi can make an application for bail at a later date.
Darling said little at the arraignment, answering only direct questions from the judge. He is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and two counts of tampering with evidence.
The unsealed indictment accuses Darling of causing the death of his estranged wife by gunshot wound at her home in Fort Johnson on Feb. 7, 2019.
Darling is further accused of illegally possessing a rifle with intent to use the deadly weapon against another at the date and place of the incident. He cannot possess a firearm, due to a 2009 felony conviction on burglary in the third degree.
Related to the evidence tampering counts, Darling allegedly prepared “false physical evidence by staging the crime scene to appear as a suicide attempt,” the indictment reads. He is also accused of concealing a cell phone, believing it would be sought by officials as potential evidence.
Local and state law enforcement officials at a press conference later Tuesday said the indictment and arraignment were the culmination of a systematic approach to investigating the case in the years since Darling first reported the death of Kristine Howland Darling as a suicide.
“In this case, we determined that things just didn’t add up,” Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffery Smith said. “Throughout the early stages of the investigation, as family, friends and the public heard of this incident and came forward, the circumstances of this death became suspicious.”
@dgazette Michael Darling arraigned in 2019 death of wife Kristine Howland Darling; Accused of murder, staging scene – 5/30/23
Investigative efforts were slowed by the suspension of in-person interviews during the coronavirus pandemic and related delays in processing and receiving evidence that have persisted since, according to Montgomery County District Attorney Lorraine Diamond, who became involved in the case after taking office in 2021.
Although officials were unable to discuss the specific details uncovered through their investigation, Diamond said the case that was developed was presented to a Montgomery County grand jury on Thursday, leading to the four-count indictment.
“Without us working together and cooperating as a team, we may not have made it to this point,” Smith said.
After finally moving forward with an indictment, authorities faced another brief delay in the case when Darling left his Gloversville home before he could be taken into custody. Diamond believes a subpoenaed witness tipped Darling off to the grand jury proceedings, which prompted him to flee to avoid arrest.
Darling was captured by authorities on Saturday after they appealed to the public for help. Tips led to his discovery within 24 hours in a wooded area off of Riceville Road in Mayfield. He was taken into custody without incident, according to state police.
Officials had intended to convene a grand jury prior to his release from federal prison, which took place earlier than expected on May 8. Darling was sentenced last year to three years in federal prison, followed by three years supervised release, in connection to a federal case against him related to the discovery of pipe bombs at his Gloversville home during a welfare check on Feb. 12, 2021.
“It was a bit of a surprise when we heard he was back on the streets,” Diamond said. “We had been in touch with the correctional facility where he was located and had routinely been checking.”
Darling pleaded guilty to illegally possessing firearms and unlawful possession of six pipe bombs in October 2021 and received the sentence in March 2022.
“We would have liked to apprehend him from there, so that we didn’t have any type of situation like this,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, it’s just something that happened that made things a little more complicated on our end, but thankfully, with the public’s assistance and cooperation of all these agencies, we were able to take care of it fairly quickly without incident.”
Darling now faces a minimum prison sentence of 15 years to life or a maximum of 25 years to life if convicted on the top count in this case, second-degree murder. A tentative trial date of Oct. 23 has been set. Darling is next due in court later in June.
As the case continues to progress through the court system, law enforcement officials said they will continue to focus on seeking justice for the victim and her family and friends.
“Certainly, a loss is a loss no matter how far along it’s been. This I’m sure brings things back into the limelight for them and those feelings are renewed at this juncture,” Diamond said. “I think the general consensus among the family members is that they’re grateful that we’re moving forward in this direction.”
Family and friends had suspicions about the death of Kristine Howland Darling since it occurred, according to lifelong friend Megan Rizzo. Their doubts surfaced publicly on Facebook when Rizzo started a page titled “Seeking Justice for Kristine Howland” in January 2021.
“My immediate thought when I was told she committed suicide was there was no way she committed suicide,” Rizzo said in February 2021. “That was not her personality. Her daughter was her absolute world. She would never leave her daughter.”
Rizzo responded to the weekend’s events in a post to the group on Monday.
“To those who know, take that moment to breathe that sigh of relief. We’ve waited so long for what we believe to be the truth. Feelings, wow. This seems surreal, unbelievable, relief, validation…. So much more…,” she wrote, in part. “For now, let’s raise our glasses to Justice 🥂, to truth ⚖️ and to remembering Kristine’s 💚 life. I know she is smiling down!”
Kristine Howland Darling grew up in Gloversville and graduated from Gloversville High School, her obituary read. She was an employee at the Wilkinson Residential Health Care Facility in Amsterdam. She left behind her beloved daughter.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.