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Man awaiting new trial in 2014 shooting death rejects plea offer, seeks court-appointed attorney

Jeremy D. Sickenberger

A Portersville man who was granted a new trial in the 2014 shooting death of a friend after serving 10 years in prison rejected a plea offer Monday, June 10, and his attorney, who has been working for free, asked to be appointed to the case.

Jeremy D. Sickenberger, 32, was convicted by a county jury of third-degree murder in a 2016 Common Pleas Court trial for the shooting death of Thomas “T.J.” Stockman and was sentenced to serve 18 to 40 years prison. He had been incarcerated since his arrest in April 2014.

After his first attempt to have Sickenberger’s sentence vacated and receive a new trial through a post-conviction relief hearing in February 2022 was denied, defense attorney Marco Attisano appealed to state Superior Court, which ruled in his favor in June 2023.

The appeals court accepted Attisano’s argument that Sickenberger’s trial attorney was ineffective because he failed to request a “mistake of fact” jury instruction based on Sickenberger’s contention that the gun was unloaded.

Sickenberger was released from the State Correctional Institution Pine Grove, Indiana County, on May 31 and placed on pretrial supervision after $100,000 bail was posted.

On Monday, Assistant District Attorney Laura Pitchford told Judge Joseph Kubit she will be ready for the new trial in August or September.

Attisano said the district attorney’s office on June 5 offered Sickenberger a 10- to -20-year sentence, with credit for time served, if he pleaded guilty to third-degree murder.

Sickenberger declined the offer, but Attisano said it will remain under consideration if the offer remains on the table until June 28.

The offer will remain open until then, Pitchford said.

Attisano said he objects to any delays in the new trial caused by the offer.

Kubit said it will be up to the court administration office to schedule the trial, and the matter will be placed on the trial schedule for August or September.

Attorney asks for court appointment

Attisano said he has spent hundreds of hours representing Sickenberger for free since 2016. He asked to be named Sickenberger’s court-appointed attorney with pay dating to March 26.

He also asked for a second attorney from his firm, Flannery Georgalis LLC of Pittsburgh, to be appointed. He argued Sickenberger originally was represented by two attorneys from the public defender’s office, and the district attorney’s office will have two attorneys on the case.

Attisano argued the public defender’s office has a conflict of interest in the case because ineffective counsel was the reason the appeal was granted.

Pitchford objected. She said Sickenberger originally was tried on first-degree murder, but he can’t be charged with that again and he is no longer in custody. She argued the case should be treated like a new matter, and Sickenberger should have to ask the court to appoint an attorney for him.

“You have the right to counsel. You don’t have the right to choose your counsel,” Pitchford said.

Kubit didn’t immediately rule, saying he would take the arguments under advisement.

After the hearing, Attisano said he would continue representing Sickenberger for free if he is not appointed to represent him.

Stockman died from a .22-caliber rifle shot in the side of the chest in Sickenberger’s mobile home on Robbie Way on April 17, 2014.

State police said Sickenberger and Stockman were “horsing around” while watching a movie that night. Sickenberger retrieved the rifle from his room, came back to the living room, put the barrel of the gun to the side of Stockman's chest and pulled the trigger, according to police.

Sickenberger claimed the shooting was accidental, and that he did not know the gun was loaded. He denied pulling the trigger.

This story was updated June 11 to reflect that the plea deal offered included credit for time served.

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