Virgil man pleads guilty in murder of 16-year-old girl

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Hammond's cousin died May 7. His cousin died April 13 and was buried on May 8, according to a family member.

CORTLAND, N.Y. – Friends and family members of Amie Leland, a 16-year-old girl who was killed in a grisly murder in May, lined the walls of the courtroom as Judge Julie Campbell read the plea deal into the court record.

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Michael S. Hammond II, 24, would plead guilty Thursday to second-degree murder in a case that shocked the Cortland community and left many with unanswered questions.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Hammond will spend 20 years to life in prison. He could have faced up to 25 years to life on the murder charge.

By agreeing to the plea deal, Hammond waives several rights, including the right to a trial by jury and the right to appeal his case. His guilty plea acts just like a guilty conviction after a trial, Judge Campbell said.

Hammond, shackled and donned in an orange jumpsuit, appeared in Cortland County Court Thursday with his defense attorney, Christopher Grace, a partner at Loughran, Mucci and Grace LLP in Binghamton. Hammond had previously been represented by Mark Loughran of the same firm.

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Michael S. Hammond II (City of Cortland Police Department)

About a dozen friends and family members of Leland appeared in court Thursday, some wearing shirts with a caption that read "Justice for Amie," above a photo of the 16-year-old girl.

Hammond has been in custody at the Cortland County Jail since his arrest May 8. Judge Campbell denied Grace's request Thursday for bail.

Leland lived with her parents at a suburban home on Lincoln Avenue and was a student at Cortland High School. On May 8, Hammond, who had been dating Leland, went to the teenager's home on Lincoln Avenue.

An argument ensued, and Hammond would stab Leland with a handled paring knife and bludgeon her with a wooden stool and an aluminum baseball bat, according to court documents.

Hammond displayed little emotion at Thursday's court hearing.

Following her death, hundreds attended a public vigil for Leland and her family in Suggett Park. A Facebook page was created in her memory, where friends and family members continue to post photos and heartfelt messages.

Cortland County District Attorney Mark Suben was not immediately available for comment following Thursday's hearing.

Grace, Hammond's defense attorney, was asked Thursday if he was satisfied with the outcome of the case.

"Yes and no," Grace said. "Nobody wants to see a young boy who's bright and well-adjusted and has a good family spend 20 years to life in jail, but he knows he did something wrong and knows he has to pay ... I'm glad he got the minimum. I'm glad he's got a chance to get out while he's still got life left in him. It's a shame that two young people lost their life today."

Grace requested Thursday that Judge Campbell allow him to appear at the pre-sentencing report at the Cortland County Probation Department. Prior to sentencing, a defendant is interviewed by the probation department as part of a pre-sentence investigation regarding details of their case, and a synopsis of the investigation is given to the judge. Typically, defense attorneys and public defenders do not appear at these hearings, Grace said.

"I just want to make sure the synopsis the probation officer gives is similar to the synopsis that I saw at the investigation," Grace said. "Because of the amount of years he's looking at, the [report] will affect when he's paroled and how he's paroled,  and I just want to make sure there's nothing negative that he didn't say mistakenly placed into the investigation report that could adversely affect him getting parole."

Grace added that Hammond has shown tremendous remorse for the crime.

"He's been horribly tortured and sorry and upset," Grace said, noting that Hammond had been laid off from his job a few weeks prior to the murder incident. His cousin was buried May 8, the same day of the incident, Grace said.

"He was just in a horribly low point in his life and, unfortunately, reacted in a terrible way."

Hammond is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 11.

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