FREDONIA - A plea deal has been reached in the legal case of 46-year-old Theodore S. Wickham of Dunkirk, who is one of the two men accused of killing 73-year-old Frank T. Slate Jr. of Fredonia in September 2012.
Chautauqua County District Attorney David Foley said Wednesday afternoon that Wickham pleaded guilty to the indictment, which was second-degree manslaughter (a Class C felony), before Chautauqua County Court Judge John T. Ward.
"We're always pleased to get a plea to the indicted charge," Foley said. "We've always taken the position that he needed a plea to the indicted charge. I never offered any sort of reduction. The family's been very cooperative and I appreciate their support, and the Fredonia Police did a very nice job investigating it."
Theodore S. Wickham
"We are relieved with (Wednesday's) guilty plea by Mr. Wickham, for the sole reason that our family will not have to deal with Ted Wickham or Chris Grant for much longer," the family of Frank Slate stated in an email. "We do not feel that justice has been served, nor feel it could be. Our father is dead. How he died will haunt us forever. The two responsible for this have been, and still are, walking our same streets. There at no time has been any question that they killed him.
"They will serve time in a place very familiar to them. Taxpayers will foot the bill. They will get out and be no better for their time served, possibly even worse, and again walking our same streets. Dad will not. Justice served? No.
"We are relieved that the county is spared the cost of two trials which would have brought no different results than (Wednesday's) plea, and that our family does not have to deal with these two much longer. At least for a few years."
Foley said Wickham's sentencing is scheduled for March 17.
He added the maximum sentence Wickham can get at that time is three to nine years behind bars, which is what the judge committed to as being the maximum possible in exchange for the guilty plea. If Wickham had been found guilty by a jury, he would have faced a maximum sentence of five to 15 years.
"The judge has indicated it will likely be a one- to nine (-year sentence). So, in other words, he would become parole-eligible after one (year); that doesn't necessarily mean he will be released after one," Foley said.
"(Second-degree manslaughter) is a reckless statute; he recklessly causes the death of another individual, as compared to intentionally," he went on to explain. "In the law, and I'm not meaning to say it's not a violent situation, it's considered non-violent ... because the mental palpability only requires recklessness."
"Typically, in these sort of situations where we're looking for a plea to the indictment because we think that we have a good case, if you do get a plea, it isn't until on the eve of the trial, which we were within a week of commencing," he added. "I think that's typically the way it works, unless we offer reductions in the charge; then we can dictate how long the plea deal is good for."
Wickham is represented by Chautauqua County Public Defender Nathaniel Barone Jr. Barone said he felt the agreement was "appropriate under the circumstances" and a "good resolution."
"The plea deal was an agreement that we were able to reach with the district attorney's office and the court that we thought was a fair resolution, and it was in Mr. Wickham's best interest," Barone said. "We were able to secure an agreement concerning the sentence, which is what we were trying to achieve."
Jury selection in the Wickham case was set to begin this Tuesday if a plea deal had not been reached ahead of time.
Wickham and Christopher M. Grant, 28, also of Dunkirk, were charged with shooting Slate with a 16-gauge shotgun following an argument between the three men at Slate's home on Porter Avenue. Wickham is reportedly the one who shot Slate. Both he and Grant fled the scene and were later found by police officers.
Grant has already pleaded guilty to the crime.