Nicholas Maher is being sent to state prison for 23 years for killing his father Martin Maher in their Oakfield home on Oct. 18.
The picture painted on Nick Maher in Genesee County Court today was of a 37-year-old man who struggled for years with mental health issues and gave into his delusions when he stabbed his 69-year-old father to death.
"Nick believed that his father was responsible for poisoning the air," District Attorney Kevin Finnell said. "He said he grabbed a knife to scare him but his father was flippant and arrogant and denied involvement in poisoning the air.
"Of course he denied it. It's ridiculous. It was a product of his mental health issues that he refused to address, he didn't want to address," Finnell said.
"Nick Maher is a college-educated person," Finnell continued. "He's smart enough to know that he needs to get mental health treatment and that he needs to take his medication, even if it doesn't make him feel real good. But he chose not to do that. So he responded, in his words, by 'losing it on his father,' a man who just denied poisoning the air, and killed him. In so doing, he took away the only person that was left in the world who cared about him."
Nick's siblings, Megan and Matt, spoke to the court and shared how much the death of their father hurt them.
Megan said Martin Maher put Nick first over his own happiness, putting off his own retirement to care for his son. She said Nick refused treatment and accused anybody who tried to help him of trying to harm him.
"I think you simply made him the bad guy because he was there for you," Megan said. "What if mom hadn't passed a few years earlier? Would she have been caught up in your alternate reality and have been the bad guy, too? What if I spent more time around the house? Would I have been in the crossfire? I don't know. But these things have crossed my mind this year."
Megan said cleaning up her father's house, and going through old family photos was the hardest time of her life.
"I was constantly reminded of what you did," she said. "I no longer felt happy and safe in that house. All of the wonderful memories of our childhood were overshadowed by what you did."
Near the end of her remarks, she said, "You took a dad away from your siblings, and a grandpa away from his grandchildren. "Life has been hard enough after mom passed but not having my dad has been even more difficult than I think you'll ever be able to comprehend."
Matt said he will never forget the day he went to his father's home after not being able to reach him on the phone, worried something terrible had happened, and finding him dead on the floor.
"My dad loved my brother and it broke his heart that his love was not reciprocated, but that there was anger and blame towards him," Matt said.
Finnell told the court that the Sheriff's Office conducted a thorough investigation of the case and there is no doubt in his mind, that the evidence supported a murder conviction but it was also clear from psychological exams that if Nick Maher's case had gone to trial, his extreme emotional disturbance would have to lead the jury toward a manslaughter conviction rather than murder. That is what lead to a plea deal that allowed Maher to admit to the murder with a possible sentencing range of 20 to 25 years in prison.
But Maher's mental health issues don't excuse him from the choices he made, Finnell argued. Maher refused treatment and refused to take his prescribed medication. Those choices ultimately led to Maher taking his father's life.
The chance to plead to manslaughter is the only consideration the defendant should get, Finnell told Judge Michael Mohun. Finnell said Maher should get the full 25 years in prison allowed by statute.
Public Defender Jerry Ader took exception to the suggestion that Maher was completely responsible for his own choices in dealing with his mental illness.
"I sincerely believe that our community, our country, has a difficult time dealing with mental illness, especially when it comes to mental illness in the criminal justice system," Ader said near the beginning of his remarks.
Later he said, "some of the speakers here, the children of Mr. Maher, they use of words, that he chose to do these things, and that he could have done something else. And I'm just not quite sure that's true. And I don't think anyone can know for sure if that's true, it's easy to say because we don't understand mental illness. But in my experience, when someone is placed in a psychiatric hospital, it could take years in order to get a patient, an inmate, to understand, to have the insight as to their illness, why they need help and why they need medication."
Ader said after nearly a year in jail, his client is just starting to take his medication and come to terms with his mental illness.
Ader argued that Mohun should consider something less than the maximum 25-year term on the manslaughter conviction because the Legislature when it wrote the law, allowed for a sentencing range of 5 to 25 years. Clearly, the Legislature understood, Ader argued, that each individual, each case, is different because mental health is involved, therefore, a judge has latitude to weigh all the factors.
In this case, the plea agreement meant that Maher must receive a sentence of at least 20 years but there was no reason, considering the factors of his mental health issues, to sentence him to the maximum of 25 years.
After giving Nick Maher an opportunity to address the court, which he declined, Mohun spoke directly to the family.
"I don't want you to dwell on Oct. 18 of 2021. The day your dad died. What I want you to think of are the days he lived. He almost lived until his 70th birthday which would have been in July of this year. Think of all those things that you had with your dad and that you celebrated together and that he was there to give you guidance and support. And think of the man who put his life on hold during his retirement years to take care of your brother."
He added, "Your brother has admitted, he's acknowledged., he has pled guilty to manslaughter in the first degree. What he has done by this act, you've lost two family members. On Oct. 18, you lost your father and you lost your brother. That is a devastating event which it will resonate through generations of Maher family celebrations of birthdays and holidays. But don't let this crime define the family. Remember your dad as he would want to be remembered, as a good dad, as a dad who stepped up and took care of your sick brother. Your father's devotion to duty was extraordinary."
Mohun said the killing of Martin Maher was without justification, without reason.
"It was a heinous crime to which an appropriate sentence must be imposed," Mohun said.
The 23 years will be followed by five years of post-release supervision.
Nick Maher is barred by court order from having any contact with his siblings until Sept. 9, 2053.