August 26, 2008 - 12:14 PM
As soon as I walked into Judge Richard J. Arcara's federal courtroom Monday afternoon, I had the feeling it was going to be no ordinary sentencing.
David Pierce, 55, stood like a statue toward the back of the courtroom, staring straight ahead toward the judge's bench. Wearing a blue business suit, the thin, gray-haired man did not appear to speak a single word to his wife, daughter or attorney.
Pierce, a former Marilla highway superintendent who had been caught stealing from the town, stood that way for a good 20 minutes -- just staring -- before Arcara walked in and started the proceedings.
After an FBI investigation, Pierce pleaded guilty earlier this year to a felony fraud charge.
As the sentencing began, I was surprised by the painfully honest words spoken by Pierce and his attorney, Anthony J. Lana.
As a reporter covering law enforcement for more than 30 years, I'm used to criminals making all kinds of excuses, often blaming cops, reporters or other people for their problems.
There was none of this from David Pierce.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't regret the bad decisions that put me here," Pierce said.
And I could tell he meant it.
There was great sorrow in his voice as he spoke of his alcoholism, his emotional problems and his greed. But he never blamed anyone but himself.
He repeatedly apologized for hurting his wife, his daughters and other family members, including one relative who lost an arm and a leg while serving in the Marines in Iraq.
Lana mentioned that, at one point after his arrest, Pierce tried to kill himself with booze and prescription drugs.
Pierce said that, since that time, he stopped drinking and started working an honest job. He said he enjoyed watching the sun come up each day as a sober man. He said he hopes his family can forgive him someday.
Arcara scolded Pierce at several points. The judge said he was disgusted with public officials who think stealing from taxpayers is "entitlement" -- something they should be allowed to do.
But I could also see the judge was impressed by the sincerity of Pierce's apologies and lack of excuses.
"This is a tough one for Arcara," I thought to myself. "He wants to punish this man for being a corrupt politician, but he also feels bad for the guy."
Arcara refused Lana's request to give Pierce home confinement. Under advisory sentencing guidelines, he could have sent Pierce to prison for anywhere from six to 12 months. Arcara gave Pierce seven months in prison. I saw no reaction from Pierce as he walked out of the courtroom.
Hours later, Pierce left his home with a gun, and pronounced the ultimate sentence on himself.
I grieve for his family.
-- Dan Herbeck