Thursday, May 5, 2011

While Grown Men Cry, Pacherille Pleads Guilty


Boy Faces 8-11 Years In Shooting


Family photos from
At Christmas, age 3.
The future baseball star.

After pleading guilty to attempted murder – in the end, not as a hate crime – in last year’s Good Friday shooting, Anthony N. Pacherille, 17, will return to Otsego County Court at 10:30 a.m. Friday, July 22, to learn his fate.
Appearing before Judge Brian D. Burns Friday, April 29, at a hearing punctuated with drama, the teen pleaded guilty to a single charge for the attempted murder of classmate Wesley M. Lippitt in the second degree.
The plea Pacherille agreed to with District Attorney John Muehl would send him to state prison for 11 years, followed by five years of post-release super-PLEA/From A1
vision.  With time served and good behavior, he could be home in eight years, when he is 25.
On Friday, April 2, 2010 – Good Friday – Pacherille discharged two rounds from a .22-caliber rifle at Lippitt, who was struck in the arm by one round. The other round missed Lippitt but came close to hitting Cooperstown Police Officer Jim Cox. Pacherille then fired a third bullet into his chin; it lodged behind his eye, centimeters from what would have been a fatal spot.
The shootings occurred in front of the glass window of the Cooperstown police station in the lower level of the Village Hall, where Lippitt had fled from Pacherille after he was chased from nearby Cooper Park, where the encounter began.
Pacherille had been charged with second-degree attempted murder as a hate crime, but the hate-crime component, which could have had Pacherille serving up to 25 years, was dropped.  However, Muehl required Pacherille to say on the stand that he chose to shoot Lippitt because he was black.
The three-page, hand-written suicide note, which included derogatory references to several races, was not read aloud.  However, it became part of the court record and copies were provided to the Lippitt family and members of the media.
Responding to a series of questions from Judge Burns, Pacherille said he intended that day to “shoot myself and someone else.” Twice, Pacherille stated he chose to shoot Lippitt “because he was an African-American.”
Pacherille asked the judge to repeat questions several times and also occasionally consulted with his lawyer, E. Stuart Jones of Troy, before answering, “Yes, your honor,” or, “No, your honor.”
The hearing, which had been scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m., was not called until 2:08 p.m. It concluded at 2:38 p.m. The Pacherille case was delayed as the court heard other matters and allowed time for consultations regarding last-minute refinements to the plea agreement.
Pacherille’s guilty plea forestalls what may have been a lengthy trial, scheduled to commence on May 23. Otsego County officials were about to issue jury summonses to 300 county residents, and weeks of court time had been set aside for the trial.
From Pacherille’s standpoint, by pleading guilty, he avoids the possibility of receiving a substantially longer sentence, particularly if convicted of a hate crime.  However, the defendant’s father, Tony Pacherille, that evening characterized the plea bargain as “extortion,” and would use it as the basis of an appeal.
According to the father, Burns summoned the son and his lawyer to a conference Tuesday, April 26, where he pointed out that, even if found not guilty by reason of insanity, the boy could find himself in the state psychiatric system, perhaps for life.  He said any plea agreement must be completed by Thursday, April 28.
That, said the father, amounted to coercion.  He added that community leaders had encouraged the plea deal so a racially charged trial would not be under way when the tourism season began.
The judge said that, due to constraints under which he must operate, he was unable to comment.  However, the district attorney in an interview denied any coercion and said tourism influenced the case in no way.  He said the judge had to convene 300 potential jurors by that Friday and, if he did, the trial would then go forward.
The courtroom’s spectator area filled up to near-capacity by 1 p.m. Eventually, more than 100 persons were seated on the pew-like benches which roughly divide the stained-glass main courtroom into two sectors.
Members of the Pacherille family and many of their supporters sat in the spectator area behind the defense counsel’s desk, where Pacherille and his lawyer were sitting. Seated with the Pacherille family was Father John P. Rosson, pastor of St. Mary’s “Our Lady of the Lake” Catholic Church, an adherent of his young parishioner’s innocence.
Earlier, as their son was brought from the Otsego County Jail to the courthouse at 12:50 p.m., Pacherille’s parents and several relatives and friends stood waiting near the entry to the building for security officers to admit members of the public.
As correctional guards escorted their son to the entrance, dressed in a horizontally striped jail jumpsuit, shackled and handcuffed, with his head bowed, the defendant’s father called out, “Be strong, Anthony.” A woman in the group also called out, “Say hello to your mother,” as the prisoner was led through the door.
The Lippitt family, including Wesley, took seats in the spectator area behind prosecutor John Muehl’s desk. Cooperstown Police Chief Diana Nicols was also present and a number of Wes’ CCS classmates were seated directly behind Lippitt and his parents.
As the hearing began, Judge Burns warned spectators that outbursts or disruption by spectators during the proceeding would not be tolerated. While recognizing there were “emotions” on both sides in this case, the judge added, “This is not the place to express your emotions. Decorum prevails here. You need to conduct yourselves appropriately.”
At the judge’s invitation, prosecutor Muehl described a taped telephone conversation that took place the night before, where Pacherille’s father, a lawyer, instructed his son in what the D.A. characterized as a plan to disrupt, and potentially nullify, the results of the hearing.
(The father said later that he indeed called his son in prison, and knew the conversation was being taped, but did so out of concern that the son’s lawyer might have agreed to concessions that would not be in his son’s best interests.  His concern was prompted by an erroneous report on Thursday afternoon – repeated in the print edition the next morning – that the teen had agreed to plead to a hate crime.  If that appeared to be happening, the father intended to signal the son to declare he was firing his lawyer, which would have brought the hearing to an end.)
Judge Burns then reiterated his warnings regarding court decorum, speaking directly to the father and to other members of the Pacherille family and their supporters.
Minutes later, as Judge Burns questioned the defendant regarding his intentions on Friday, April 2, 2010, a voice from the Pacherille section was heard saying, “It’s a lie.” The statement was repeated three times by the same person. Other members seated in the Pacherille section were heard muttering and there were sounds of crying.   Men and women were weeping in the courtroom, and in continued outside as they watched  Anthony escorted in handcuffs and ankle bracelets to the van that would return him to the prison.
County Sheriff Richard J. Devlin approached the seating area and reported to Judge Burns, “I can take the whole row out,” referring to the Pacherilles. In the end, only one man – an uncle – was escorted from the room and the judge allowed the others to remain, including the defendant’s father. No further interruptions occurred.
As part of the plea agreement, Pacherille agreed to waive his rights to appeal. However, by statute in New York, there are only three reason to appeal a plea:  “ineffective counsel,” “an involuntary plea” or the “imposition of an illegal sentence.”  The appeal must be made within 30 days of sentencing.
Muehl said he settled on the 11-year proposal only after serious soul-searching.  If he sought the 20+ years a hate-crime conviction could trigger, Anthony would be incarcerated until his mid-30s.  In eight years, he would be in his mid-20s, young enough to fit in at college and begin to rebuild his life, the prosecutor said.
Asked about fears the teen could be injured, even fatally, in prison, Muehl said he couldn’t remember the last time a jail-house slaying occurred in New York State, and expressed confidence Anthony would be secure, and would also receive needed psychological treatment.
In coming weeks, the county Probation Department will compile a pre-sentence report which will become part of the court record when he reappears on Friday, July 22, for formal imposition of his sentence.

Practicing at St. Mary’s.

With dad and dog.

Amanda Hoepker/The Freeman’s Journal
Anthony Pacherille, 17, is led to the van that carried him back to Otsego County Jail after he entered a guilty plea.

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