16-year-old Cheryl Pierson was a popular cheerleader from Long Island with numerous friends and a loving boyfriend, Robert Cuccio. But behind this facade of normality, she was harbouring a horrific secret. Since the tender age of 11, Cheryl’s father, James Pierson Sr., had been molesting her. The first assault happened when James was driving Cheryl to visit her mother in hospital. As they drove, he fondled her. She later recollected how he would often force her to the bed and tell her to pretend that he was her boyfriend. She was subjected to “all kinds of sex” and was often being raped at least twice a day.1
Whenever James felt as though Cheryl was acting out of place, he would beat her mercilessly and would even exact punishment on her dog, Cocoa: He kicked her so hard that she bounced off the wall and then cried for hours. “He wouldn’t let me go near her to comfort her. She kept crying and it made me feel so sad I wanted to die,” Cheryl said. He was a ticking time bomb. He had such a ferocious temper that he once punched Cheryl in the face when he learnt she had sent a Valentine’s Day card to a boy that he didn’t approve of. Cheryl often showed up to school riddled with bruises.
When Cheryl’s mother passed away in 1985, she hoped the abuse would cease but her hopes couldn’t have been further from the truth. In fact, the abuse became more frequent and Cheryl would be raped up to three times a day.
16-year-old Sean Pica sat beside Cheryl in their high school homeroom. As the duo chatted one day about a recent hitman murder, Cheryl confided in Sean that she wanted somebody to kill her father. After withstanding the abuse for years, Cheryl reached her final tether when her father threatened that he would rape her 8-year-old sister.
One afternoon when Cheryl came home from school, she found James and her younger sister “roughhousing” around on the carpet. She was seething; she didn’t want her sister to go through the same trauma she had been subjected to.2
Cheryl decided she would ask Sean if he would kill her father for her. After informing her boyfriend, Robert, of the plan, he collected $1000 which would be paid to Sean once the job was done. On the afternoon of 5 February, 1986, Sean hid behind a tree outside the Pierson household, armed with a .22-caliber rifle. When James stepped foot out of the door to go to work as an electrician, Sean shot him dead.
It wouldn’t be long until rumours were circulating around their high school. Multiple pupils had heard Cheryl, Sean, and Robert talking about hit men. By the following week, Cheryl, Sean, and Robert were arrested.
Both Cheryl and Sean pleaded guilty to manslaughter. As the lurid details of her father’s sexual abuse came to light, numerous witnesses came forward to admit that they had failed to act on signs of the sexual abuse. Many people said they knew something was awry but didn’t know what to do about it or if they should report it. Alberta Kosser, a neighbour of the Pierson family, said she didn’t go the authorities because: “I’d never seen it. Maybe I blocked it out of my mind. To think that such a thing could go on. I didn’t want to..” Cheryl’s own step-uncle knew of the abuse and decided to testify on her behalf at the last minute.3
For all those tormenting years, Cheryl kept quiet and didn’t tell a soul. Many questioned why she didn’t speak up but silent on the part of a child incest victim is classic. Often children blame themselves and the silence avoids the betrayal of a parent. 4Furthermore, it protects the fear of disbelief or the accusations of lying. Experts estimate that 1 to 4% of all women have been sexually abused by their fathers or stepfathers. The judge argued that Cheryl’s life wasn’t threatened to which her therapist rebuffed by referring to incest as “the murder of the soul. The feelings literally die inside, and what you have left it a shell.”
Although the judge found Cheryl to be the victim of “frequent, repeated” incest at the hands of her father, he sentenced her to six months in jail.5Taking into consideration that the prosecution was recommending two to six years, it could have ended worse.
Ultimately, Cheryl served 3 ½ months of her sentence before she was released. When Cheryl was released, Robert was waiting for her. He had been given probation as an accessory.
The couple got married the same year in at St. Louis de Montfort Roman Catholic Church. Three years later, Cheryl gave birth to their first child, Samantha. Three years later, they had another daughter, Casey.
Sean was released on the 13th of December, 2002, after serving 16 years for his part in the murder. During his time incarcerated, Sean joined a prison education program called Hudson Link which gave him the opportunity to earn a Bachelor’s Degree.
In addition to his own education, he assisted other inmates in learning to read and write. After his release, Sean returned to prison to run their college program, becoming the executive director of Hudson Link. 6 He speaks around the country to high school students and helps paroled inmates get back on their feet following their release.7
In 2016, Cheryl and Robert wrote a book detailing her traumatic past which is titled: “Incest, Murder and a Miracle.”
- UPI News Track – 29 April, 1987 – “Youth Sentenced in Killing”
- UPI News Track – 10 October, 1988 – “A Teenager Who Served a Jail Sentence”
- Providence Journal – 23 October, 1988 – “A Terrifying Tale of Incest and Murder”
- The Philadelphia Inquirer – 8 October, 1987 – “When Incest Goes Unchallenged”
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – 6 October, 1987 – “Girl Gets 6 Months in Father’s Slaying”
- PR Newswire – 25 May, 2017 – “First Degree”
- People, 14 April, 2017 – “Inside Teen Hit Man’s Journey Behind Bars — 30 Years After Killing Classmate’s Abusive Dad for $400”