Sisto pleads guilty to assault — (Adirondack Daily Enterprise)

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Adirondack Daily Enterprise

In a plea agreement with Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague, the 21-year-old Fort Covington resident entered guilty pleas to nine of the 60 counts he was indicted on recently by a grand jury. Sisto faces 35 years behind bars when he’s sentenced in March.

Sprague said the plea deal, which came during what had been expected to be Sisto’s arraignment in Essex County Court, provides some closure for the victims’ grieving family members.

“It’s about getting what is justice, and in this case, a 35-year determinate term – when you look around the state at what people are getting for these types of crimes, it’s certainly not 35 years,” Sprague said.

Sisto broke down and cried at one point during Friday’s court proceedings and feels “remorse and sorrow” for his actions, according to his attorney, county Public Defender Brandon Boutelle. Boutelle also revealed that Sisto had been suffering mental health issues in the weeks leading up to the double-fatal crash.

The charges

The chase started around 1:30 p.m. on July 24 on the streets of Lake Placid, when Sisto, driving his mother’s Ford F-150 pickup truck, refused to pull over for speeding. He struck a village electric patrol car driven by officer Joshua Ashline and then sped off down Main Street, weaving in and out of traffic and driving on the sidewalk.

The fatal collision occurred on state Route 86 in Ray Brook, in front of the state Adirondack Park Agency offices, where Sisto’s pickup hit a Honda Fit driven by Jim Barney, 42, nearly head-on. Barney was killed in the collision. His wife, Kim Barney, 38, died later at the hospital. Kim Barney’s daughter, Emily Colby, now 12, was critically injured. She received surgery, has since recovered from her injuries and was in court Friday along with other family members.

Wearing a black-and-white-striped Essex County Jail jumpsuit, Sisto shuffled into the courtroom with his hands and legs shackled. He stood at the defense table next to Boutelle during the entire 40-minute proceeding, saying “Yes, sir” and “Yes, your honor” when Judge Richard Meyer asked him about whether he understood his rights.

Meyer read through the nine charges contained in the plea deal. They include one count of first-degree attempted assault, two counts of leaving the scene of a property damage auto accident, two counts of second-degree reckless driving, one count of second-degree reckless endangerment and three counts of first-degree assault. The three assault charges are for showing “depraved indifference to human life” in the deaths of Kim and James Barney, and seriously injuring Emily Colby.

One by one, Sisto pleaded guilty to and Meyer convicted him of the charges. Sisto showed little emotion until the judge outlined the details of the assault charges, when he appeared to get choked up.

“Do you need a second?” Meyer asked.

Sisto nodded his head and was handed a box of tissues and cup of water. Then the judge continued.

Later, a sheriff’s deputy brought a box of tissues to the row in the gallery where Colby was sitting with her family.

“It’s plenty”

Under the terms of the plea deal, Sprague said Sisto would be sentenced to a 10-year prison term for the first-degree attempted assault conviction. That will run consecutive to three concurrent 25-year sentences for the first-degree assault convictions.

“It’s plenty,” Sprague said, when asked by a reporter if that was enough prison time.

The 60-count indictment had included more serious charges, like two counts each of second-degree murder and vehicular manslaughter. However, Sprague said that even if she had gotten a conviction on the murder charge, the expected appeal process would have made the case carry on for much longer. She also said none of the vehicle-related charges contained in the indictment, even if they involve death, were violent felonies.

“That, to me, wasn’t enough,” she said. “So I looked at getting him a violent felony which carries a determinate term, which means there’s a set time, there’s no minimum or maximum, and they do sixth-sevenths of that sentence.”

Sisto will also be on probation for five years when he gets out of prison. He waived his right to a jury trial and his right to appeal his convictions.

“It was important to us and to the family not to be fighting this out with an appeal,” Sprague said. “I think the closure for the family was the top priority, and not having Emily have to testify at a trial. She’s been through enough.”

Sprague said the victims’ family members were part of the plea agreement discussions from the beginning.

“They’re very comfortable with this,” she said. “They are a very close-knit family with, let’s say, a law enforcement background, and they know the reality. Their biggest fear was him walking away with nothing.”

No question of guilt

Sprague gave Boutelle boxes of paperwork containing police reports, witnesses’ statements and other evidence before the grand jury proceedings.

“That gave us a picture of what we were up against,” he said, describing it as an unusual step. “This was never really a case of whodunit, or if there was any question of guilt, it was just trying to find the right balance that took into account his responsibility of what he did and what the prosecutor thought was fair from her side.”

Boutelle said it’s taken Sisto time to come to grips with the harm and hurt he caused.

“At that age, you feel you’re invincible, and it’s hard to ever think two steps ahead,” Boutelle said. “Since the day this happened, he’s had to mature significantly, and we’ve seen that happen. The longer this has gone on, the more and more remorse and sorrow and just trying to figure out how to process it as a 21-year-old kid – he’s working on this.”

The public defender also shed some light on one question that really hasn’t been answered – what was going through Sisto’s mind that day.

“There’s no excuse for any of it, and he knows that. It’s senseless, but from our investigations, he was having some mental health issues and coming unraveled in the days and weeks that led up to this.”

Boutelle said state police picked Sisto up on a “mental health check” two weeks before the double-fatal crash. He was evaluated at a hospital and released.

“I don’t know if that could have prevented anything or if it was a cry for help at the time,” he said. “It just reinforces the need for greater access to mental health services for young people, for anyone, so this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen.”

When Meyer asked Sisto if he was under the influence of any drugs or alcohol during Friday’s proceeding, Sisto said he was taking two anxiety medications and Prozac, an antidepressant.

Sentencing

The prosecution asked that Sisto be sent back to the county jail without bail. Boutelle didn’t object, and Meyer remanded Sisto there pending his sentencing, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. on March 5.