AUBURN | No one in Cayuga County Court doubted that the past 10 months have been difficult for Brandon Hinman.
After his wife, Jenna Hinman, gave birth prematurely via cesarean section to twin girls in March, doctors discovered the 26-year-old Port Byron native was suffering from choriocarcinoma — a rare, pregnancy-related cancer.
After a two-month fight for her life, Jenna Hinman died, leaving behind her infant daughters, a grieving husband and family.
Then, three months after he lost his wife, Brandon Hinman was arrested and charged with stealing more than $46,000 worth of donations from a bank account set up to help cover Jenna Hinman's extensive medical expenses.
The Afghanistan war veteran was accused of forging his father-in-law's signature on 17 checks and charged with third-degree grand larceny and second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, both felonies.
And while recognizing Hinman's many tribulations, Judge Thomas Leone encouraged the defendant on Thursday morning to seriously focus on resolving his criminal case — and, in addition, a family court case regarding the custody of his 9-month-old daughters, who are currently being cared for by his late wife's parents.
"We haven't moved very far with that either," Leone said. "You've got some pretty serious criminal charges in front of you."
Hinman appeared in court Thursday in regard to a motion filed by Eileen Walsh, his defense attorney.
Walsh asked the court for leave to no longer serve as Hinman's attorney, stating her client had stopped working with her. Without Hinman being willing to assist in his own defense, Walsh stated she feared she could not properly represent him.
"There's definitely a breakdown in communication," she said.
When given a chance to speak, Hinman attributed his lack of communication to an attempt to "address some issues with my self."
When his wife died, Hinman said other issues haunting him — including his experiences in Afghanistan and learning his father has cancer — became overwhelming.
"I kind of got lost in the sauce, and everything came to a head," he said.
Hinman said he recently checked himself into Crouse Hospital, where he spent a week receiving treatment. He now attends counseling and works part-time — all in preparation for taking care of his daughters.
"All my other time is spent working on myself," he said.
Stating she didn't know Hinman had received treatment at the Syracuse hospital, Walsh told the court she was worried her client would "fall into the same pattern" of not communicating with her.
"I'd like to assist Mr. Hinman," she said. "I have real concerns."
However, after Hinman expressed a desire to continue retaining her as his defense attorney, Walsh agreed to give her representation of Hinman another try.
As Hinman, who remains out of custody on $2,500 bail, left the courtroom, Leone urged the defendant to stay in contact with his attorney.
"Brandon, it's really imperative," Leone said. "I think everyone's taken into consideration the history of what you've been through."
During her battle with cancer, Jenna Hinman's fight captured the attention of people across the world, who followed her story as it was covered by a host of local, national and international media organizations.
The Facebook page run by the her friends, "Twice Blessed: Jenna's Legacy," features updates on the Hinman couple's twins, Azlynn an Kinleigh. The page currently has 462,917 likes.
Hinman's next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 15.