Pilcher pleads not guilty in fatal stabbing

CORTLAND, N.Y. — A city man plead not guilty Thursday in Cortland County Court to charges he fatally stabbed another man in August on Main Street.

Judge Julie Campbell increased the cash or bond bail amounts for Andrew J. Pilcher, 32, of 6 Main St. to $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond at the arraignment, as well.

The hearing was moved to the County courthouse’s largest courtroom after about 10 relatives and friends of Pilcher attended the hearing, as well as about 10 family members and friends of Damian S. Grant, the 28-year-old who died on Aug.ust 29 outside Pilcher’s upper-floor apartment.

Grant’s loved ones cried and smiled after Campbell announced Pilcher’s increased bail.

Campbell cited the serious charges, lengthy potential sentences and grand jury indictment when she announced Pilcher’s new bail amount.

A County grand jury accused Pilcher last month of first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, and tampering with physical evidence, all felonies, as well as fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a misdemeanor.

“The grand jury is not an arm of the district attorney and the police,” Campbell said at the hearing. “It is an arm of the court instructed to be impartial.”

A person convicted of first-degree manslaughter can be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison and five years of post-release supervision, Campbell warned Pilcher.

Pilcher’s court-assigned defense attorney, Luke Fenchel, argued his bail should not increase as he cannot afford his current $20,000 cash or $40,000 bond bail for manslaughter and remains in jail. Pilcher has no previous criminal record and has the support of his mother, stepfather, brother, fiancée, grandfather and close friends, all present in the courtroom, Fenchel said. In addition, Pilcher is employed full-time, he said.

Fenchel also argued that the state is “moving away” from cash bail for accused criminals in favor of other measures to ensure a defendant’s appearance in court. A bill to eliminate cash bail was moved to committees in the state Assembly and Senate in April and February, but has not advanced.

Pilcher could end up serving the totality of a jail sentence without being convicted if he cannot afford to post bail before the case is settled, Fenchel argued, noting the minimum prison sentence for second-degree manslaughter is a year.

But Assistant District Attorney Christopher Simser emphasized the violent death at the center of the case.

“I feel it’s very low bail for conduct alleged and now indicted,” Simser said, referring to the previous bail amount.

Pilcher used a knife to stab Grant and then hid it from authorities, according to city police and the indictment. Pilcher told police he defended himself during a fight with Grant, according to court documents. Grant’s girlfriend told police the incident began with an argument over a cigarette, documents note.

Pilcher is scheduled for a pre-trial conference at 11:15 a.m. Feb. 14 in Cortland County Court.