Emotions run high at Cortland man's sentencing for manslaughter

Andrew Pilcher sits in Cortland County Court as his attorney Luke Fenchel addresses Judge Julie Campbell (Sarah Bullock/Cortland Voice)

Cortland County Judge Julie Campbell sentenced on Thursday a city man convicted of stabbing Damien Grant to death in August on Main Street to a term of four to 12 years in prison.

Andrew J. Pilcher, 32, of 6 Main St., pled guilty to second-degree manslaughter in February in exchange for the sentence.

Turning to address Grant’s family directly, Pilcher apologized.

“No amount of words can express how sorry I am,” he said. “I wish I could, I wish we could switch roles that night.

“I know I can’t ask for forgiveness, I know it’s not possible,” Pilcher continued, his voice trailing off, “but, please, someday…”

Campbell said she presided over three manslaughter cases during her time as a Cortland County Judge and the common thread in each case was alcohol or substance abuse.

Pilcher admits the night he stabbed Grant he had consumed 15 shots and some amount of beer while out drinking at bars on Main Street, Campbell said.

Adding to the toxic scenario, Grant — a man struggling with alcohol and drug addiction — had also been out drinking, she noted. Grant’s blood-alcohol content at the time of his death was 0.225 percent, Campbell said. The legal limit to drive is 0.08 percent.

Campbell described Grant’s death as “avoidable” and said “No family should have to deal with this.”

Pilcher’s attempts to cover up the stabbing and his lies to police, stating he punched Grant with his keys, “...demonstrate a consciousness of guilt,” Campbell said.

Before Grant’s death, Pilcher had no criminal record, was praised as talented in his field as a tattoo artist and maintained a job, Campbell said.

Main Street surveillance video clearly shows Grant was unarmed and only accompanied by his girlfriend, while Pilcher was out with two male colleagues, said Assistant District Attorney Christopher Simser. Pilcher had walked away from the argument with Grant, and was just steps from his apartment, only moments before the stabbing.

“Mr. Pilcher turned around, threw his arms in the air, and re-engaged,” Simser said. “This simply did not need to happen.”

Instead, Pilcher made a conscious decision to stab the four-inch knife he was carrying five inches into Grant’s chest, Simser said.

Simser said that in a review of Pilcher’s recorded jail conversation, Assistant District Attorney Christine Ferraro discovered Pilcher had told his girlfriend, “I’ll look back in a few days and laugh about it.”

While Grant’s loved ones gasped, Simser said he gave Pilcher the benefit of the doubt and assumed he was simply trying to comfort his worried girlfriend. But laughing is no longer a possibility for Grant, Simser said.

“His laughter will never be heard nor will he be able to hear the laughter of others,” Simser said. “Others will have to explain to his children who he was.”

Invoking the language of the Easter season, Simser said Pilcher will have the opportunity of remorse, repentance and redemption “like all fallen men.”

“That’s not available to Mr. Grant,” he said.

Grant’s mother, Cyndi Eaton, attempted to describe the indescribable sorrow and pain her Grant’s family has endured when she addressed the court.

“Mr. Pilcher took my son,” Eaton said, “and gave my family a life sentence for pain.”

“I cannot go through a day without the vision of my son lying in a casket going through my head,” she said.

Grant’s sister, Isobella Terrazas, read a letter to her deceased brother to the court, saying, “Losing you broke me in places I didn’t know I could break.”

Adding to the pain was the publicity of Grant’s struggles with alcohol and drugs, Eaton said. When Grant’s 7-year-old daughter first returned to school, another child told the girl that her father died because he was a drug addict, Eaton told the court.

Grant did have a drug history and alcohol was a “demon he was battling,” Eaton said.

“My son was intoxicated, yes. He swung at Mr. Pilcher, yes,” she said. “But (Pilcher) chose to stab him with the intention to kill him.”

Grant’s girlfriend, Tami Nickerson, who accompanied Grant that night, described Pilcher as remorseless immediately following the stabbing. Pilcher did not call 911, but left to hide the knife “...leaving Damien to die in my arms,” Nickerson said.

Grant’s stepfather, Joe Terrazas, implored Campbell to sentence Pilcher to as much time in prison as possible for killing Grant.

“That’s a burden that’s yours, Mr. Pilcher, and I have faith God will hold you to it,” Terrazas said.

Eaton said after the sentencing she was not satisfied with the sentence Pilcher received.

“By his callous actions he (Pilcher) enforced a life sentence on Damien’s entire family and everyone who loved him,” Eaton said. “Twelve years is not enough for a life.”

Campbell told the court she appropriately considered the trauma a trial would further inflict on Grant’s family and friends as a factor when she accepted the deal.

Simser and District Attorney Patrick Perfetti said after the sentencing they sympathized with Eaton’s dissatisfaction.

“It’s a grieving mother,” Perfetti said. “I’m not sure there’s anything we could have done to satisfy her, because in the end, she’s without her son.”