The legal saga of former Cooperstown High School student Anthony Pacherille Jr., serving 11 years in state prison for shooting a classmate, will have another chapter, with the state’s highest court agreeing to consider his claim that his sentence was too harsh.
Pacherille, now 19 years old, is confined at the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. In 2010, he shot Wesley Lippitt in the arm at the Cooperstown village police station, then shot himself in the chin. Both teens recovered from their wounds.
Pacherille’s father, Anthony Pacherille Sr., said a key issue in the appeal is his son’s contention that he should have been granted youthful offender status by County Judge Brian Burns.
“There has been so much injustice towards my son for the last three years in New York that I keep my expectations low,” the father said. “I am trying to remain hopeful, but I won’t get my hopes up too high.”
He said the optimism he does have is driven by a recent ruling by the Court of Appeals — New York’s top court — that held that sentencing judges must consider all teenagers facing criminal prosecution for youthful-offender treatment, even if the issue has not been raised or has been waived in a plea agreement. That ruling came in a case involving a 17-year-old Warren County youth, Reece Rudolph, who was caught in 2008 with nearly 400 packets of heroin and was sentenced to five years in prison.
If youthful offender status is granted to a defendant, felony sentences are limited to four years and the records are sealed.
The father also said that five mental health experts all agreed that his son suffered from significant mental health problems. He argued that information should have been considered by Burns when the decision on youthful offender status was before the jurist.
Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl defended Burns’ handling of the sentence, noting the judge had considered youthful offender status even though Pacherille Jr. was not eligible for it because he had committed an armed felony.
“It was incumbent for the defendant to come forward with mitigating circumstances” that related to the manner in which the crime was committed, and there were no such mitigating circumstances, the district attorney said.
“Not one expert said he wasn’t criminally responsible for his crime,” Muehl added. “He knew what he was doing and knew what that he was doing was wrong. If the family says differently, they’re not telling the truth.”
Albany attorney Terence Kindlon, who has represented dozens of defendants charged with violent offenses, said it is rare for the Court of Appeals to agree to hear appeals on criminal convictions.
Kindlon also said it appears that the Court of Appeals has accepted the case with an eye towards clarifying the responsibilities of judges in evaluating defendants eligible for youthful offender status before meting out a sentence.
Pacherille Jr., who is white, was charged with a hate crime after using a racial epithet when he shot the victim, Wesley Lippitt, who is an African-American. Facing a potential sentence of 25 years in prison, Pacherille Jr. avoided a trial by striking a plea agreement that called for the 11-year prison sentence.
If his appeal fails, he will not be entitled to a parole hearing until July 2019, when he will be 25 years old. His family members contend the shooting resulted because he had been tormented by bullies at the high school until he finally snapped.