Dryden man charged with murder attempt

Police say he tried to poison landlord with pills


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Herbert J. Benjamin of Dryden demonstrates how he heard something solid in the bottom of his milk container and discovered 10 unknown pills inside this week. Police say a man who has been renting a room from Benjamin put the pills in the milk in an attempt to kill Benjamin.

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — It’s hard to tell by Herbert J. Benjamin’s cheerful disposition, but police say that, for the last month, someone has been poisoning him.
For the last eight months, Benjamin, 75, of 1 Brightday Road, has been renting a room to Henry R. Hanson, 51. And according to police, Hanson has been putting pills in Benjamin’s milk in an attempt to kill him.
Benjamin said he hadn’t been feeling well for the past few weeks, and after finding pills in a milk carton on Tuesday he called the State Police. Police investigated the incident and Wednesday they arrested Hanson for second-degree attempted murder, a felony.
“I’ve been feeling bad for several weeks back and nobody knew why, not even my doctors could pinpoint it,” Benjamin said. “We thought maybe it was old age, but that’s not me. Then I found these 10 pills in the bottom of my milk container.”
Benjamin said State Police took the pills to a lab in Albany for analysis, but he believes they were blood thinners, possibly blood thinners for which Hanson had a prescription.
“We’ll know next month what they really were, but they’ve determined that it was some kind of blood thinner,” the retired Friendly’s Restaurant employee said. “My blood was like water.”
Benjamin first rented a room in his mobile home to Hanson in November, when Hanson was living in an abandoned building on Route 13. Benjamin said it was starting to get cold and Hanson came to him because Hanson knew he rented rooms and wanted a place to stay for the winter. Although Hanson does not work, Benjamin said he was able to pay for the room with money from a disability check.
Hanson was a good tenant when he first moved in and there weren’t any problems, Benjamin said. However, Hanson then began to act territorial and started to complain about a second tenant, a student from Tompkins Cortland Community College.
“He started to act like it was his home and I was the tenant,” Benjamin said. “I would turn on lights and he would shut them off. He would complain about how (the other tenant) left the bathroom and he would have to clean the bathroom before he showered.”
Benjamin explained that the complaints accelerated to the point that he wanted Hanson to move out. He claims he told Hanson he wanted him to leave, and Hanson refused.
“I gave a 30-day notice on June 2, but that didn’t bother him,” Benjamin said. “He said, ‘I’m not going nowhere.’ So I said, ‘Then you’re going to have to be forced out,’ and he said, ‘Good luck.’ So I went to the town court and filed a court order eviction notion and we have to go there on the 18th.”
Dryden Town Court records show this is not the first time Hanson has been in trouble with a landlord. Records show that on Oct 21, 2005, just before he moved in with Benjamin, Hanson was arrested for second-degree harassment, a violation, after threatening to, “smash” his landlord’s face if he touched his food.
In a written statement, that landlord said, “Henry Hanson, who I have been allowing to stay with me … told me that if the food on the shelf was his and that if I touched it, he would smash my face in … I told him that I would call the cops. Henry said that I wouldn’t because I would be dead!”
Benjamin said he had heard rumors that Hanson had been in trouble but it did not bother him because he thought it had been taken care off.
Benjamin does not know where Hanson is from originally — somewhere in the Midwest he believes. He said Hanson told him that he has been in the area for six or seven years.
Benjamin said he was amazed to hear how long Hanson has been living here because “he has nothing” and he now believes Hanson is mentally unstable.
“He’s got a split personality,” Hanson said. “Sometimes he would be down here and talking and he’s just as normal as you and I. Then other times, he’s like a bull. He’s got a mean streak in him.”
With a ball of cotton still taped to the inside of his right forearm to stop the bleeding from his recent blood work at Cayuga Medial Center in Ithaca, Benjamin said he is feeling much better. “I’m just happy to be alive.”



Group wants to aid homeless

Staff Reporter

A local group that identified the number of people without homes in Cortland County as 76 this past winter is looking to create a long term plan to decrease homelessness.
The county Legislature’s Human Services Committee on Thursday forwarded a resolution to the full Legislature in support of the Accessible and Affordable Subcommittee of the Housing Conference as it creates a broad continuum of care plan that would organize local agencies and deliver housing services to people in need.
Cortland County has missed out on about $100,000 per year in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money for the past 10 years because it does not have a continuum of care plan, Mike Pisa, a member of the subcommittee who also works for Catholic Charities, told legislators.
“That’s $1 million that really could have made a difference in terms of meeting housing needs,” Pisa said.
By creating such a plan, which would be comprehensive and would have to show cooperation from many agencies in the county, Cortland would be able to apply for this money, said subcommittee member Rob Ferri.
With the money, the county would better be able to address homelessness and housing issues countywide.
“We’d be trying to develop proactive, long-term solutions that would not only get people off of the street, but would also prevent an individual from turning back to homelessness,” said Ferri, who also works for Access to Independence.
The subcommittee needed county approval to develop a continuum of care plan and ultimately will need its approval for the final plan before submitting it to the state in seeking HUD funding, Ferri said.
In its first year as an applicant, Cortland would likely be eligible for around $100,000, Pisa said, and in each subsequent year the county would be able to apply for an additional $100,000, meaning the annual allocations would grow accumulatively.
Although the initial $100,000 might benefit only a small portion of the community, the cumulative funding ultimately would allow local agencies to assist people in need from all walks of life, Pisa said.
“We hear from people every day who can’t meet their rent or can’t pay their utilities and are making sacrifices to do so,” Pisa said. “This program would be a lot more general than anything else, based solely on financial need.”
Also, helping people find quality housing is beneficial for the community for a whole, Pisa said.
“When people become homeless, they usually wind up in much more costly care than a simple housing subsidy,” Pisa said. “Whether they’re going to a hospital or rehab or jail, it costs the taxpayers a lot more than a simple $100 per month subsidy would.”
The HUD funding likely would be filtered through a single agency that has experience dealing with housing needs such as Catholic Charities or Access to Independence, Pisa said, but it would be spread throughout the various agencies involved in the continuum of care.





Judge to rule on confession

Staff Reporter

Cortland County Judge William Ames heard testimony Tuesday and Wednesday on the admissibility of accused arsonist Harlan Ward’s December confession.
Ward, 20, gave a statement to Cortland police officers on Dec. 8 in which he said that on Dec. 4 he and his sister Judy accompanied their mother’s boyfriend, Everett McIntosh, to the former Wickwire warehouse where McIntosh set the building on fire. Ward told police that the three of them were angry that David McNeil was evicting their family from their nearby house so that the Wickwire building could be torn down. McNeil owned both their Crawford Street house and the Wickwire building at Main and Crawford streets.
Following his confession, Ward was arrested for third-degree arson and third-degree burglary, felonies. No one else has been charged in the case.
Randolph V. Kruman, Ward’s attorney, claims that his client is mentally deficient and that he recently scored a 69 on an IQ test. According to any score under 70 is considered “extremely low.”
Kruman said a Cortland school psychiatrist testified for the defense that Ward’s level of comprehension would have made him unable to understand his Miranda rights. If Ward did not understand what was read to him, he would not have known that he had the right to remain silent, and that he had the right to an attorney.
Based on this testimony, Kruman believes that Ward’s statements should be suppressed. David Hartnett, the Cortland County district attorney, is trying the case and his would not comment on the hearing.
Judge Ames reserved decision at the hearing.