In a typical homicide case, there are often two sides: the victim’s family, and the family of the accused.
But as the deadly shooting of Matthew Leach by his father in an Old Forge motel room last summer shows, those lines can become blurred when both the victim and the accused share the same family.
Since the July 2012 death, family members of 59-year-old Michael Leach, a former captain of the Rochester Police Department, have stood by his side as he faces charges of second-degree murder. He didn’t mean to kill his son, they said, but instead Michael Leach fired his gun into the darkness believing that an intruder had entered his room at the Clarks Beach Motel.
It wasn’t, however, until Herkimer County District Attorney Jeffrey Carpenter announced Aug. 5 that the victim’s widow had consented to a proposed plea offer of three to nine years in state prison for her father-in-law that the rest of Matthew Leach’s family publicly spoke up.
They were outraged that Carpenter had only talked with Matthew Leach’s widow despite a number of phone calls and emails to the DA’s Office in July 2012 and February that went unanswered, they said.
Since then, steps have been taken to try and finally arrange a meeting between Carpenter and certain family members.
This discontent has only made it more painful for Matthew Leach’s wife, Theresa, to cope with the loss of her husband of nearly two years, she said this week.
“I can’t just think about Matt. I have to think about the trial and court,” Theresa Leach cried over the phone. “I just want this to be over so I don’t have to think about anything. I haven’t been able to just mourn my husband.”
She also wanted the Leach family to know that she has no say in how Michael Leach’s case is prosecuted. And while she doesn’t believe her father-in-law should face a maximum punishment, she does think he should be held accountable for taking another person’s life, even if it’s a small sentence.
“Yes, I do believe he’s already suffering, and I still believe it was an accident,” Theresa Leach said about Michael Leach. “But if I shot and killed someone in my family, I would feel horrible. I would want to be punished and do my time, and I wouldn’t be fighting for my innocence.”
Last week, Leach’s family started an online petition on change.org seeking to dismiss all charges against Michael Leach, who could face a minimum of 15 years to life in prison if found guilty of murder. His trial is set to begin Monday, Nov. 18.
Page 2 of 2 - “We stand unified in our statement that Michael Leach should NOT be tried for the tragic, accidental shooting of Matthew Leach,” states the petition, which so far has been signed by at least 370 supporters. “Charging Michael and pursuing a trial is justice for NO one. We will be heard and Mr. Carpenter, as the representation for the justice system, is ignoring the people who were most affected by this tragedy.”
Carpenter acknowledged the fact that the victim’s family also is the defendant’s family adds a “new dynamic” that is not often seen in other criminal cases. Still, Carpenter said he has a duty on behalf of the public to prosecute someone who has been indicted by a grand jury on criminal charges.
“If I felt that a dismissal was the proper thing to do, that’s what I would recommend to the court, but I do not believe that is appropriate,” Carpenter said.
Instead, Carpenter has offered Michael Leach the lesser prison sentence if he pleads guilty to second-degree manslaughter. Michael Leach is expected to report on Monday whether he wants to accept that offer.
In Oneida County, District Attorney Scott McNamara has encountered his fair share of homicides in which the victim’s and the defendant’s family are one and the same. Over the years, McNamara said he has learned that it’s important to consider what close family members have to say.
When Kevin Adams, 19, fatally stabbed his 80-year-old grandfather Edward Bogan in Clinton in 2008, Bogan’s children preferred the young man receive psychiatric help for his deadly delusions instead of spending life in prison.
The parents of Joseph Giacona Jr. also didn’t want to see their grandson – 13-year-old Joseph Giacona III – face a lifetime of punishment for killing his father in Vernon in 2008, and the teen ultimately spent about a year in juvenile detention.
“In those circumstances, I kind of bring everybody in, I explain my position and what my job is, and I listen to them to see why they think this happened, then I try and gauge what I think justice is,” McNamara said. “I don’t always defer to them, but you lean to them a little bit more because you don’t want the family out there saying you’re doing something wrong.”