MAYVILLE - Theodore S. Wickham of Dunkirk will spend one to nine years in state prison for shooting 73-year-old Frank T. Slate Jr. of Fredonia to death with a 16-gauge shotgun in September 2012.
Wickham, 46, appeared in Chautauqua County Court in Mayville Monday morning for his sentencing in front of Judge John Ward, who handed down the prison term after brief comments by County District Attorney David Foley and Wickham's legal counsel, First Assistant Public Defender James Pelletter.
"We had gone in knowing the judge was going to mitigate the sentence based upon the plea and not impose the maximum (of five to 15 years if he was found guilty by a jury)," Foley said after the sentencing.
OBSERVER Photo by Greg Fox
From left, First Assistant Public Defender James Pelletter, Wickham and County District Attorney David Foley stand before Judge John Ward during Wickham’s sentencing.
Foley added he originally asked for a three- to nine-year sentence, but the court came back and said it would be one to nine years.
"Overall, we are satisfied with the sentence, which was a product of considerable negotiations and exchange of information between the prosecutors and our office ... ," Pelletter said. "Regardless of what anyone's feelings are about the Second Amendment, it's very clear that difficult emotional situations, coupled with alcohol and firearms, are not something that's likely to have a positive result. Perhaps that's the lesson to be taken away from all this."
Family members of both Slate and Wickham were present in the audience to hear the sentence.
Ward asked Wickham if there was anything he wished to say on his own behalf, to which Wickham apologized for shooting Slate.
"I want to tell the family I'm terribly sorry for what happened," he said. "It's something that should have never happened and I'm very sorry for it."
Wickham added he was extremely stressed the past few days. Pelletter said Wickham just lost his sister-in-law, to whom he was very close, on Sunday, which really drove home even more what the loss of a family member feels like. That, coupled with the time arriving for him to surrender himself over for his prison sentence, Pelletter said, is what Wickham was stressed over.
"He's certainly feeling remorseful of the entire situation," Pelletter added. "This is something that didn't have to happen and, in my opinion, probably wouldn't have happened if alcohol hadn't been involved."
Wickham pleaded guilty to the indictment of second-degree manslaughter, a class C felony, in January.
Foley explained why he pursued the charge of manslaughter instead of murder, which Slate's family initially took issue with.
"This was based on the evidence we had," he said, adding Wickham did not have any prior criminal history that would make him a predicate felon. "It was difficult, given the facts and circumstances, to necessarily prove intent, as compared to a reckless act."
Foley said he also spoke to the family about avoiding a full-fledged trial, which he said they were in agreement to avoid.
Christopher M. Grant, 28, of Dunkirk, Wickham's accomplice, was sentenced earlier this month to 20 to 60 months in state prison for his role in the crime. Grant pleaded guilty to the indictment of second-degree manslaughter in December 2012.
Grant, who cooperated with the prosecution against Wickham, did not fire the bullet that killed Slate that night, Foley said, which is why his sentence was shorter than Wickham's.
Pelletter said there are no "winners" in this "tragic" case.
"Mr. Slate lost his life, his family lost him and the two co-defendants have had their lives impacted in a horrible way," he said. "I don't think there's anything good that can be taken away from this entire situation."
Foley explained Grant and Wickham engaged Slate in an argument at Slate's Porter Avenue home in Fredonia the night of the killing. Slate, Foley continued, then retired to his bedroom and Wickham followed him with Slate's shotgun and fired the weapon once in Slate's direction, hitting him in his left chest area.
"His (Wickham's) indication was he intended not to hit Mr. Slate, but scare him," Foley added.
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