The Remarkable and Turbulent Life of Cheryl Pierson-Cuccio
On the outside, Cheryl Pierson was just another average American teenage girl, but behind closed doors lied a dark and sinister truth that couldn’t stay hidden forever. The secret that she was keeping to herself was about to be revealed in the most horrific manner possible; on the evening news. What happened to her and what she did about it sent shockwaves around the country. Today, some regard her as a hero but others consider her a cold-blooded monster. Just what happened to teenage Cheryl Pierson and why are criminals being idolized? Read on to discover the amazing story of one girl who looked evil straight in the eye and lived to tell the tale.
1. Normal Facades
Cheryl Pierson grew up in a fairly typical American household. She had a mother and father, an older brother named Jimmy and a younger sister named JoAnn. The family lived together in a standard American house in Selden, New York, on Magnolia Drive. The father, James Pierson Sr., was an electrician and well-known in the Long Island community.
To their friends and neighbors, the Piersons were just another normal family. They appeared close and devoted to one another. But appearances aren’t always what they seem.
2. Cheryl Pierson’s Boyfriend
Cheryl Pierson was a 15-year-old student at Newfield High School in Selden. She was a popular cheerleader and from the outside a perfectly happy average teenager. It wasn’t until her boyfriend, Robert Cuccio, got too close to the family that anyone noticed something was off.
Cheryl’s father greatly disliked Robert, most fathers do of course dislike any boy dating their young daughter but this father, James, had entirely different reasons. At first, Robert thought that he was just an over-protective father who went overboard.
3. A Death In The Family
Cathleen Pierson, Cheryl’s mother was diagnosed with a rare and terminal kidney disease in 1979. Her sickness put immense stress on the family. The family made endless trips to the hospital and endured many sleepless nights. Cathleen struggled for years, undergoing dialysis on a bi-weekly basis and had two kidney transplants. Then a bad case of pneumonia left her in a coma for two weeks and she tragically passed away in the hospital at the age of 38.
The prolonged illness and death left the family devastated and tore down a barrier between Cheryl and her father, whose relationship was rocky and tense at the best of times.
4. Too Close For Comfort
Cheryl and her father began spending more time alone with each other. During her mother’s illness, she was forced into a position where she had to fulfill the position of both sister and mother. She helped with taking care of her mother and for a time also her father after he broke his feet in an accident.
The constant family stress and keeping up with school work and cheerleading left Cheryl with time for little else in her life. Including her boyfriend Robert.
5. Home Life
James Pierson Sr. was a very strict father. Many believed that the loss of his wife drove him to become more protective of his family but in reality, he was always strict. He ruled the household with an iron fist, controlling everything that went on under his roof. He implemented strange rules for the children and if those rules were broken then they would face beatings.
One rule, for example, was that they were required to eat equal amounts of meat, potato, and vegetables. They also couldn’t drink water until after they finished their food.
6. Rising Tensions
At the age of 18, Cheryl’s brother Jimmy had had enough of living under his father’s dictatorship and moved out of the house. Jimmy and his father were constantly in disagreement. Jimmy had long hair, pierced ears and at times played his drums well into the night. He dreamed of becoming a rock star. None of which his father could agree with.
Tired of the constant battles and family tensions, he left in search of independence. But his leaving would tear down the last barrier, as weak as it was, between Cheryl and her father. Now, only Cheryl, her younger sister and their father James Pierson Sr. remained in the house.
7. Friends and Neighbors
Over time, family friends and neighbors started noticing odd interactions between Cheryl and her father. On one occasion a neighbor called asking for Cheryl, JoAnn replied that she couldn’t come to the phone because she was in bed with her father sleeping. In another case, a neighbor thought it odd that James would call Cheryl over to sit next to him and she would rub his bare-chest. The neighbor said she did it almost out of instinct, like it was routine.
But given the situation the family was in, no one commented or thought it too out of the ordinary. Most just assumed that the grieving family was consoling one another, and they were to an extent…
Robert long thought that Cheryl’s father treated her poorly, and the longer he observed them the more he began to suspect that her father was being abusive towards her– not only psychologically and physically, but also sexually. One day he bravely confronted Cheryl and she broke down in tears. Her father began sexually touching her at the age of 11, she told him.
Mr. Pierson would grab her private parts during wrestling games and pinch her breasts or fondle her while watching TV. This began around the same time that her mother became ill. Then it progressed further.
9. Secrets Revealed
By the times Cheryl was 13-years-old her father was forcing her to have full intercourse with him, she said. Robert, having seen the two together in their house, immediately believed Cheryl and consoled her. Cheryl explained that she felt there was nothing that she could do. Her father was friends with the high school principal so she never approached any of the teachers at her school. She knew that it would eventually get back to the principal and he would have defended her father.
Prior to meeting Robert, she was convinced that she would have to endure being raped by her father until the day she was able to move out. But Robert changed everything.
10. The Next Target
The changes in the Pierson family dynamic terrified Cheryl. With the passing of her mother and the absence of her brother at home it was only herself and the now 9-year-old younger sister, JoAnn. She feared the worst, that her younger sister would become her father’s next target. Cheryl shared her fears with Robert and they both agreed that something had to be done.
Robert couldn’t live with himself knowing that his girlfriend was being raped on a daily basis by her own father. They certainly wouldn’t let JoAnn suffer the same fate. Their plan, though, was brutally extreme.
11. Homeroom 226
One day Cheryl overheard a classmate in homeroom named Sean Pica talking about a murder that had taken place recently in the Long Island area. A waitress had hired a hitman to kill her husband because he had been abusing her. Sean bragged that he would do the same for enough money.
He sparked Cheryl’s interest, even if only partially serious, she asked how much he would do the job for. Sean replied, $1,000. His response stuck with Cheryl and soon an idea began to take root in her mind.
12. A Call To Action
Cheryl mulled the idea over, and out of a place of desperation and fear for her sister, decided that murder might just be the only option she had. Cheryl began planning her father’s murder. A few days later Cheryl approached Sean, she said that she had a job for him. She and Robert brought Sean over to the house to scope the place out, making sure that he would be familiar with the terrain.
The two agreed to pay Sean $1,000 for the murder of Mr. James Pierson Sr. Sean was reportedly never told the reason they wanted Cheryl’s father dead but he would certainly find out.
While still thinking about her options and how to rid her sister and herself of their incestuous father the unthinkable happened. Cheryl didn’t receive her period on schedule and began to worry. Her father also grew increasingly concerned. And then she did a test to be sure. She was pregnant. Mr. Pierson panicked and frantically began searching for a place for her to discreetly get an abortion.
Knowing that there was a good probability that the baby was his, he was determined that no one ever find out. Mortified and humiliated Cheryl told him point blank, “this is all your fault.”
14. Newfield High School
Cheryl told no one of the pregnancy, trying to forget about in the meantime. As the days passed by, Robert and Cheryl began to reconsider their plan to murder Mr. Pierson. Over a month had passed since she last spoke to Sean about the proposed murder. As far as she was concerned it was all water under the bridge, a fleeting blissful fantasy of a life without her father. Brutal, yes, but perhaps necessary.
Then on February the 4th, Sean told Cheryl that he was going to kill her father the very next day. Robert and Cheryl were both certain he wasn’t serious. He couldn’t be serious, could he?
15. 293 Magnolia Drive
Sean was certainly serious. Dead serious. Mr. James Pierson Sr. was found dead in front of his home on February 5th, 1986. His cold lifeless body was found in the driveway by his daughter Cheryl. At first glance, she assumed that he had slipped on the ice and hit his head. She ran back inside to call 911 and when the paramedics arrived they quickly determined that he had been shot to death.
Mr. Pierson was shot four times in total, twice in the head and twice in the chest. Paramedics attempted to resuscitate him, but it was far too late. Cheryl’s father was dead.
16. The Hit
Sean Pica waited shivering behind a tree in front of 293 Magnolia Drive just before dawn on a wintery day in February. He held a .22 caliber rifle in his hands as he waited for Cheryl’s father to exit the house. Sean was no professional hitman, he had never killed before. He was a mere 16-year-old boy, weighed a meager 116 lbs, was a boy scout and still had braces. He was determined to help his friend Cheryl and if that meant resorting to murder, then that was what he would do.
He fully understood the consequences of his actions and he Mr. Pierson stepped out of the house Sean shot him four times. The 42-year-old electrician dropped dead on the icy driveway. No one heard the gunshots.
17. A White Funeral
It snowed on the day of Mr. Pierson’s funeral. The funeral was held at the same funeral home his wife’s services had been held at almost exactly one year earlier. All three children, now orphans, were in attendance.
Cheryl sobbed quietly while reading her eulogy. Her words were filled with nothing but sorrow. There was no hint of relief. Surely it was there, somewhere, buried deep below the surface.
18. The Payment
The day after the funeral Sean called saying that he wanted to meet. Cheryl and Robert met Sean at a local pizza parlor and paid him $400 that they had stolen from Mr. Pierson’s safe. Sean was, however, not at all pleased. They originally agreed on paying $1,000, but now he wanted more.
He reportedly demanded more money, a motorcycle and permission to live in a house the family owned nearby. The couple wasn’t able to comply with any of his demands. The consequences would be dire.
19. Police On The Trail
Police first viewed the crime as a professional hit but that theory unraveled quickly. Rifle shells were found at the scene of the crime and taken as evidence but there were no witnesses. Their first theory was that Mr. Pierson had been killed by his son, Jimmy, who rarely got along with each other. Jimmy owned a few guns but none matched the evidence.
Just days into the investigation police received an anonymous call from a student at the high school saying that Cheryl had been asking around for hitmen at school. The tip apparently came from Sean himself, unhappy that Cheryl and Robert had dismissed his demands. Then police begin calling people in for questioning.
After receiving the anonymous tip, police brought Cheryl in for questioning and she confessed. She told police about the physical and sexual abuse she endured from her father. She told them about arranging for Sean to kill him, but said that she called the hit off. That she didn’t know he was going to go through with it.
Police brought in Sean and Robert for questioning as well. Robert also confessed and police began connecting the dots, but with one exception. They weren’t buying the alleged rape accusations.
21. Pre-Trial Drama
Word of Cheryl’s confession made it back to her family and they were horrified. Most outspoken were her grandmother and aunt. Cheryl was labeled a monster and the incest and rape allegations were immediately dismissed as a desperate attempt to gain sympathy for committing such a horrendous act. Her grandmother theorized that she did it to receive his almost $500,000 nest egg as inheritance.
Her brother thought Cheryl did it because their father got in the way of her and Robert’s relationship by not letting them go out together. Her younger sister, however, would shock Cheryl the most by what she would say in court.
22. Heightened Emotional State
Both Cheryl and Sean faced possible second-degree murder charges. If convicted, such a crime carries a maximum prison sentence of 25 years to life. Her defense lawyer planned to argue that her actions were the result of her emotional state due to being sexually abused by her father to get the sentence reduced to manslaughter.
Since Cheryl was under 18 when the crime was committed it would be possible for Cheryl to get off with only probation. But would the jury buy it?
Sean Pica actually confessed to the crime of killing Mr. Pierson but his lawyer wasn’t about to sit back and take his client quietly. His defense argued that no murder weapon was ever found. According to Sean, he borrowed the weapon from a friend then dumped it in Mount Sinai harbor after the killing.
Authorities search the waters but the rifle never showed up. There were also no witnesses that could place Sean at the scene of the crime. Was he going to get away with it?
24. The Defense
Social workers and psychologists took the stand in Cheryl’s defense. Their claim was that children are rarely believed and that the legal system is “unable to deal with abused adolescents.” Meg O’Regan from the Center for Women’s Rights in Mineola stated that; ”A lot of kids don’t think the system will help them, and they’re right.”
Mineola then added, “Battered children are supposed to call the police, but they know they will either not be believed or their lives will be completely disrupted.”
25. Shocking Accusations
In a tearful speech in court, Cheryl testified that her father sexually abused her, raping her on a daily basis, sometimes two to three times a day. “The more I fought the more violent it got, so at that point, I just let him do what he wanted to do just to be done with it,” Cheryl stated. When asked why she didn’t go to the police she responded by saying that they wouldn’t have believed her. When the touching first began she thought that he was just showing her affection, she said.
Then, when she understood that the action was wrong, she was terrified of people not believing her and being abused worse if she told anyone. Cheryl’s sister, one 10-years-old at the time, sent in a written letter stating that Cheryl was never sexually abused by their father. The scathing letter called Cheryl a liar and blamed her for Mr. Pierson’s death.
26. The Brother’s Testimony
Jimmy, Cheryl’s brother, took the stand to testify in his sister’s trial. He described to the court how authoritarian and abusive their father could be. Initially, upon hearing of the sexual abuse allegations he didn’t believe it, but after the shock of his father’s death wore off he understood how plausible it was.
After realizing why his father had been murdered he said that he was sorry he didn’t do it himself. Next to the stand was Cheryl’s uncle, Jay Fleckenstein. His dramatic testimony shocked everyone.
27. Uncle’s Big Reveal
Cheryl’s Uncle took the stand as a dramatic surprise witness. In a gut wrenching testimony he described how his sister Cathleen, Cheryl’s mother, confided to him that she knew her husband was taking their daughter to bed with him at night. She knew that he had been sexually abusing their daughter and that there was nothing she could do about it.
The abuse and incest started right after she became gravely ill. She depended on her husband and daughter to take care of her, leaving herself unable to do anything. She made Jay promise to never say anything and she took the secret with her to her grave.
28. Holes in the Case
The Uncle added that Mrs. Pierson once confronted Mr. Pierson about the abuse of their daughter and how he physically attacked her. His testimony destroyed the prosecution’s argument, making a charge of manslaughter more likely. The jury was now on Cheryl’s side and she had all the sympathy she needed.
Her defense lawyer argued that Cheryl had been punished enough by her father and deserved to be set free to finally begin living her life free of fear, abuse and rape. But would the court agree?
The State Supreme Court convicted Cheryl Pierson of manslaughter and sentenced her to six months of jail-time. The judge wrote that to let her off with only probation ”would allow citizens to set their own standards for the permissible use of force.”
“It would also allow a legally competent defendant suffering from delusions to kill or perform acts of violence with impunity, contrary to fundamental principles of justice and criminal law.”
30. Pain and Longing
Five weeks after Cheryl’s arrest, she had a miscarriage, she had previously stated that the baby was her father’s but laboratory tests showed that the baby was, in fact, her boyfriend Robert’s. Cheryl stated that she only began having sexual relations with her boyfriend after being together about three months.
The boyfriend, Robert Cuccio, was placed on probation for five years for the role he played in the murder of Mr. James Pierson Sr. He waited for Cheryl while she was in prison, writing and visiting whenever possible.
31. Judge’s Sentence
Sean Pica, the man who gunned-down Mr. Pierson in his driveway for $400, was sentenced to serve eight to 24 years in prison for manslaughter. When asked if he had anything to say for himself, Sean said that he was “sorry it happened this way.”
The sentencing was short. The judge said that he was not being punished for the loyal assistance to a friend but for asking for one thousand dollars and executing Mr. Pierson in an ambush.
Cheryl Pierson was released from prison after serving three and a half months. When she stepped out of the prison gates a white limo was waiting for her with Robert inside. The two drove home, where Robert had tied a yellow ribbon to a tree for every day she was incarcerated.
The reunion was a joyous event and the two celebrated by going out for a belated Christmas dinner which had passed just a few week prior to her getting out of prison. They were free at last.
33. Wedding Bells
Robert proposed to Cheryl on one knee and the two got married. She took his last name of Cuccio, wanting to get rid of her old last name forever. In an interview, she stated that “Cheryl Pierson- is a name I try to forget as much as possible.” The two had two daughters together. Family life treated them well.
Both Cheryl and Robert still say that they could have never imagined that Sean Pica would actually go through with the murder. Little did they know that there would soon be another murder in the family.
34. “Wrong But Necessary”
In an interview with Inside Edition Cheryl was asked, “how did you feel when the police told you your father was dead?” An emotional and teary eyed Cheryl responded; “It was the first time in my life that I felt safe, the first time, no matter what anyone else would do to me in my life, couldn’t be any worse than what he was doing and I was glad he was gone.”
Looking back on the murder Cheryl stated that she knows what she did was wrong and if she could do it over again she would. She said that the murder was “wrong but necessary.”
35. A Deadly Silence
In 1988, author Dena Kleiman released a novel of the story entitled “A Deadly Silence: The Ordeal of Cheryl Pierson: A Case of Incest and Murder.” In 1989 that same title was turned into a made for TV movie. David Schwimmer, prior to starring in Friends, played the role of Robert Cuccio, Cheryl’s then-boyfriend, now-husband.
The book and movie were criticized for lacking the hard facts of the story of Cheryl’s life and pain. This would prompt Cheryl to eventually set the record straight with her own tell-all publication.
36. Sean Pica’s Release
Sean Pica was released from prison in 2002 after serving 16 years. During his sentence, he was in and out of solitary confinement multiple times before he turned his attention towards education. He began helping other inmates learn how to read and write, then he started working on his GED. He went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in organizational management and two masters degrees.
Reflecting on his crime he told People magazine that he was willing to help a friend and in the process, someone died. “I know it must sound nuts, but there was never any doubt in my mind that if I helped her I was going to jail… I think that’s what made it a bigger commitment.”
Sean Pica stated that he felt “like a champion” helping Cheryl. “I had no idea what value I brought and I was willing to throw it away, even in the course of helping a friend, which was sad,” he says.
He and Cheryl corresponded via letter during their time in prison but they fell out of touch after she was released from her short sentence. She has stated in interviews that her biggest regret was ruining Sean’s life.
The Cuccios, Cheryl and Robert, took in younger sister JoAnn after their sentences concluded. While initially angry at her old her sister, even calling her a liar in court, JoAnn eventually came to accept what had happened and why. She eventually moved out of the Cuccio’s home.
JoAnn has stayed off the radar so to speak but the last she was seen she had become a mother to three beautiful children. The Cuccio’s have since taken in a dog and multiple cats.
39. Robert Dies?
In 2002 Robert suffered a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. The doctor came out of the operating room and informed Cheryl that her husband’s heart stopped beating and that he was clinically dead.
The surgical team continued to try to resuscitate him and after 41 minutes his heart started beating again. Cheryl called the event a miracle that the love of her life came back after being dead. The two are still happily married and living out their lives in peace.
40. Incest, Murder and a Miracle
In December 2016, the Cuccios released a tell-all book about their lives and experiences entitled Incest, Murder and a Miracle: The True Story Behind the Cheryl Pierson Murder-For-Hire Headlines along with author Morgan St. James. The couple hopes to raise abuse and incest awareness with the book. Their recollection of the events 30 years after the incident took place shed new light on their experiences and heroism.
In light of the gruesome details of James Pierson Sr. abuses and crimes, the Pierson family decided to bury him anonymously at the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Coram, New York.
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