AUBURN | A week out of drug rehabilitation, Brandon Hinman claimed he was a new man.
Sitting at the defense table Thursday morning in Cayuga County Court, the 31-year-old Weedsport man said his time at an inpatient treatment center in Pennsylvania helped him address the prescription painkiller addiction that has reportedly plagued him for years.
"It's different, physically, mentally, spiritually," Hinman. "Sobriety, period, is my life."
And although he had not put any money toward the $30,000 restitution he had agreed to pay before sentencing — a condition he needed to meet to receive probation — Hinman asked Judge Thomas Leone to give him one last chance.
"I just want a chance to prove to you that there's a different man before you now," he said.
But due to Hinman's lack of action, Leone ruled that straight probation was not an option.
Hinman, of 2510 W. Brutus St., was sentenced to serve six months in the Cayuga County Jail and five years probation for stealing $45,300 from an account that held donations meant to support his young daughters and the late Jenna Hinman, his 26-year-old wife.
He was convicted of third-degree grand larceny and second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, both felonies.
People across the world donated more than $100,000 to the Hinman family last year after Jenna Hinman gave premature birth to twin girls and was diagnosed with choriocarcinoma, a pregnancy-related cancer.
After a two-month battle with cancer, Jenna Hinman died on May 5, 2014.
And less than a week later, as they prepared to bury their daughter, Jenna Hinman's parents discovered money was missing from the bank account created to help support their grandchildren's future.
District Attorney Jon Budelmann said the thefts began on March 28, 2014, a few weeks after his wife was placed into a medically induced coma.
Hinman stole a checkbook and forged his father-in-law Jeffrey Blaisdell's signature on 17 checks — ultimately taking $45,300 from a joint account belonging to Blaisdell and Lindsey Clark, Hinman's sister.
In addition to spending the money on pills, Budelmann said Hinman spent $500 at a Weedsport bar and paid off an $800 debt to a Watertown woman. A life insurance payment Hinman received after his wife's death reportedly helped him buy a $70,000 pickup truck.
And between his wife's death and sentencing, Budelmann said Hinman has spent little time with his daughters.
"The defendant, throughout the fundraising process and frankly up until now, has tried to portray himself as a loving husband and doting father," Budelmann said. "He's refused to watch his children. He doesn't even call."
But Hinman's behavior, Budelmann claimed, did not begin with his wife's illness.
According to Budelmann, Hinman — an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan — allegedly failed drug tests and was suspected of stealing from his fellow soldiers to purchase drugs. Budelmann said Hinman continued to lie after attending rehab by claiming he had spent time with his daughters.
In a written statement, the Blaisdells said their late daughter had tried to help Hinman, the son-in-law the grieving parents said they still love. The Blaisdells asked Leone to incarcerate Hinman and force him to face the consequences of his actions.
Because if Hinman does not improve, the Blaisdells said it will be impossible to explain Hinman's actions to his daughters, whom they are raising.
"We cannot explain why daddy has taken the path he has," the Port Byron couple wrote.
Hinman's attorney, Rome Canzano, took exception to Budelmann's comments.
Rebuffing Budelmann's statements about his client's alleged, uncharged crimes, Canzano said he felt the Blaisdells blamed Hinman for their daughter's death — a statement that made many of Jenna Hinman's loved ones seated in the courtroom cry harder.
"We can make the same baseless accusations that they are making," Canzano said.
With that, Budelmann objected to Canzano's statements — leading both attorneys to voice their displeasure to the judge. When Leone instructed the attorneys to stop speaking, Canzano raised a question.
"We were just accused of additional crimes, were we not?" he asked.
"He's the one that's here for sentencing," Leone said of Hinman, "not them."
Moving forward, Canzano described his client's character. He said Hinman is a veteran who defended his country and grieves every day for the loss of his wife. Sending a suffering man with a drug addiction behind bars would not help, Canzano said.
"He needs treatment," Canzano said. "Now we're asking that he be jailed, incarcerated, put in a cage, as if that's going to help."
Budelmann, in response to Canzano's comments, reiterated his objections to blaming the Blaisdells for Hinman's actions.
"To try to cast blame on anyone other than himself is to deflect," Budelmann said of Hinman. "We have given him chance after chance after chance ... to be the man that we all want him to be, but has not been."
When given a chance to speak for himself, Hinman said the thefts were his "full responsibility." He said he hoped to repair his relationships with his family — including the Blaisdells.
When speaking about the mother of his children, Hinman's voice wavered.
"My wife," he said, pausing to compose himself, "knows who I am, and I miss her every day."
After nearly an hour's worth of comments from the attorneys, the Blaisdells and Hinman, Judge Leone said that while Hinman appeared to feel remorseful, Hinman's actions —particularly his failure to spend time with his daughters or pay restitution — rendered Hinman's insistence that he was a changed man "just words."
"It's very easy to put a father in jail who hasn't been a father to these kids," Leone said. "You've got two living, breathing daughters who are your only connection to your wife, and you don't visit them."
So with a straight-probation sentence no longer an option, Leone gave Hinman a choice.
Hinman could serve shock probation with the understanding that, if he failed to complete drug treatment court or violated probation, Hinman would face serving 2 1/3 to seven years in prison. Or, Hinman could serve one to three years in prison — avoiding probation.
His legs jiggling nervously, Hinman opted to give shock probation a try.
So, with dozens of his and his wife's loved ones tearfully watching, Hinman was handcuffed and taken into custody. In addition to jail time and probation, Hinman was ordered to pay $45,300 restitution and complete drug treatment court.
Hinman agreed to have his $2,500 cash bail put towards restitution.