A high-profile legal saga that started three-and-a-half years ago came to its end today with the sentencing of Charlie Tan.
The Pittsford native and former Cornell University student was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison on gun charges related to his father's death. The decision came Monday in federal court in Syracuse.
A handwritten letter from Tan did not remotely sway federal prosecutors, and didn’t sway the judge either. Tan was facing 25 years in prison, but Tan and his lawyers were asking for a five-year sentence. Ultimately the prosecution got their way, closer to the maximum sentence with the 20-year decision.
Judge Frederick Scullin called Tan a troubled young man who needs mental help before sentencing him.
"We had no indication. I wouldn’t say I’m not necessarily surprised but I’m disappointed," said James Nobles, Tan's attorney, of the sentence.
“This was a savage premediated murder as the court found and punished," said Grant Jaquith, the United States Attorney assigned to the case.
Tan was initially charged with second-degree murder after his father Jim's body was found in February, 2015 in the family's Pittsford home. That murder charge was eventually dismissed by a judge who cited a lack of evidence after a jury failed to reach a verdict.
Tan pleaded guilty in June to receiving a firearm with intent to commit an offense and two counts of making false statements during the purchase of the firearm.
As part of his attorney's pre-sentencing filing, a letter from Charlie Tan outlined domestic violence and inter-family struggles, and in his own words, Tan says "I acted on impulse, leading to my series of immature and irrational decisions." Nowhere in the filings did Tan say he shot his father to death. He did, however, admit to lying to his college friend Whitney Knickerbocker to get him to buy a shotgun that prosecutors say was used to kill Tan’s father.
Prosecutors seized upon the point-of-view of Tan's letter, saying he focused "exclusively on himself: his personal and family history, background and community support" and that "no argument raised by the defendant, alone or in combination, justifies the dramatic reduction he seeks."
The prosecution states that phone records show Tan sold marijuana to fellow Cornell students after he received five pounds of pot, paying $12,000 in January 2015, the month before he was accused in Pittsford. "He was an accomplished Ivy League student, varsity athlete, social chair of his fraternity, and ran a business selling drugs on campus," reads the paperwork.
The prosecution also pointed out that social or economic standing should not be a factor in sentencing, and that nowhere in Tan's letter is any admission of what he actually did.
Instead of writing "things went horribly wrong," the prosecution asserts this is what happened:
"The defendant loaded a 12-gauge shotgun with rifled hollow-point deer slugs, took it with him into the hour, climbed the stairs, approached his father as he sat behind the desk in his home office, pointed the gun, and fired three shots – two of them at close range: a shot to the middle of his chest and a shot across his face. There was no struggle, no threat of imminent harm.
"Instead, the defendant waited with friends for his father to return home from work, and then carried out a plan to execute him and flee the country."
More than a dozen people came to court to support Tan. Many of them were in tears. His attorneys are planning to appeal the sentence.
Tan’s full handwritten letter: