AUBURN | To Brandon Hinman, Jenna Hinman meant "everything."
So when his 26-year-old wife was placed into medically induced coma after giving birth prematurely to their twin daughters on March 3, the Weedsport native's world shifted. Learning Jenna Hinman was suffering from a rare cancer served as another emotional blow.
Soon after, the story of the Army sergeant, his ailing wife and their infant girls quickly gained international attention.
People across the world fell empathized with the Hinman family, following the Port Byron native's story on a Facebook page created by Jenna Hinman's friends. With that love came donations — donations that added up to more than $138,000 before the end of March.
That's when Hinman started to make bad decisions.
On Tuesday morning in Cayuga County Court, the 31-year-old man pleaded guilty to forging and cashing multiple checks from an account meant to hold donations given to help cover his wife's medical expenses and support the couple's daughters.
In exchange for pleading guilty to third-degree grand larceny and second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, both felonies, Hinman was promised a sentence no worse than six months in the Cayuga County Jail and five years probation.
The sentence largely hinges on a monetary condition: Hinman must pay $30,000 restitution before sentencing.
During his court appearance, Hinman admitted stealing $45,300 from the account between March 28, 2014 and May 3, 2014 — two days before his wife passed away.
"I signed checks from an account that was not mine for purposes that were not intended for my daughters," he said.
Hinman did not specify what he spent the money on. While $44,000 went directly to Hinman, the defendant forged two checks totaling $800 to pay off a debt owed to a Watertown resident and wrote out a $500 check to a Weedsport pub.
In addition to admitting he stole money, Hinman also acknowledged forging Jeffrey Blaisdell's signature. Blaisdell, Hinman's father-in-law, and Lindsey Clark, Hinman's sister, were the First Niagara Bank account's signatories.
"I brought the check into a bank, your honor, to cash, which I was not authorized to do," Hinman said. "It was forged, your honor."
The defendant's court appearance came the day before his case was due to be presented to a Cayuga County grand jury.
After reportedly getting a flat tire, Hinman was about 45 minutes late to court. He entered the Auburn courtroom with his defense attorney, Rome Canzano, by his side — keeping his eyes trained forward as he walked past television and newspaper crews.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Chris Valdina started off the appearance by outlining the terms of the plea agreement.
Along with paying $30,000 of the $45,300 restitution before his sentencing, Valdina said Hinman must attend and successfully complete felony drug treatment court. The restitution will be placed into a trust fund for Hinman's 1-year-old daughters, who are currently being cared for by their maternal grandparents.
Although he agreed to the plea offer, Judge Thomas Leone told Hinman he didn't have "any faith" Hinman would pay $30,000 before sentencing.
Citing Hinman's late arrival to court and his reported lack of cooperation with his first defense attorney, Leone urged Hinman to meet the court's conditions. If he fails, Leone told Hinman he could face prison.
"Everyone has been giving you deference, especially me," Leone said. "That's come to an end."
After court, Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann called Hinman's decision to plead guilty "a good step in the right direction."
"We're certainly pleased that Mr. Hinman has accepted responsibility for his actions and isn't putting the family through additional grief by pushing the matter to grand jury," he said. "His willingness to get into treatment in felony drug treatment court will hopefully get him back on the road to doing his duties as a father."
To the defense, the outcome of Hinman's case "could've been a lot worse."
Canzano called the matter emotionally and factually difficult. An issue at the center of the case was who had the greatest right to the funds deposited into the First Niagara Bank account — a right Canzano said was never defined when donations were first collected.
Complications aside, Canzano said his client always wanted to reach a resolution.
"Jenna was everything to him. He has been reeling ever since, plagued by bad decisions and looking to make amends," Canzano said. "That's the first step in healing, and he's taken that step."
Hinman is slated to be sentenced on Thursday, June 18.