ITHACA, N.Y.—Robert J. DeFelice of Ithaca was sentenced to seven to 21 years in prison for aggravated vehicular homicide that occurred July 21, 2021. DeFelice had pled guilty to the charge in January.

Fourteen-year-old Sophia Nickerson was walking along the shoulder of Route 96 after leaving Indian Creek Farm with three others when DeFelice hit Nickerson and another girl while driving under the influence of alcohol and cocaine. At the time of the incident, DeFelice had a blood-alcohol concentration of .269, which is more than three times the legal limit of 0.08.

At the sentencing hearing held April 21, 2022, four of Nickerson’s friends and family spoke to the judge, explaining just a few of the ways their lives have changed since July.

A friend of Nickerson’s who witnessed the incident addressed Tompkins County Court Judge Joseph R. Cassidy, explaining how her life was drastically altered by the incident, including that she has found it extremely difficult to get in or near a vehicle again or trust any driver.

Nickerson’s grandfather, Tom Consiglio, also spoke through tears to the court.

“I’m going to be in prison for the rest of my life,” he said, referencing the sentence DeFelice would be receiving. “I believe in rehabilitation and changes, but I don’t believe in getting four or five chances. He’s going to live, and it’s not fair.”

Consiglio also noted that Nickerson’s sister, Willow, will have to think about and miss her sister every day, and two other speakers shared similar heartache for Nickerson’s friends and family.

(Photo curtesy of GoFundMe)

DeFelice expressed his “sincere condolences” and said that he regrets his actions and “very poor decision-making” that led to driving while under the influence.

Defending attorney Jason Leifer urged the court to consider DeFelice’s family, including his young daughter, when selecting his sentence.

Before sentencing, Cassidy noted that DeFelice was experiencing untreated mental health problems at the time of the accident and that because DeFelice pulled the vehicle over while police were searching for him, willingly submitted to a blood test and displayed remorse, he would not be sentenced to the maximum sentence, which would have been 25 years.

“I have taken into account the letters from Sophia’s friends and family,” Cassidy said. “The damage done is profound, the anger is profound, the sadness and love from her loved ones profound.”

Cassidy also added that DeFelice will face surcharges and fees and that he will have time to pay them during and after his sentence.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...