Handerhan writes letter to judge, says he seeks new lawyer, 'compassion'
HARRISBURG - A retired Mount Carmel police officer sentenced in August to serve eight years in federal prison for possession of child pornography claims his attorneys failed to properly represent him and the federal government didn't treat him with compassion and understanding.
In a five-page letter written Sept. 18 to Chief Judge Yvette Kane of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Blaine R. Handerhan accuses Attorneys Matt Gover and Brian Perry of Harrisburg of "pressuring" him and failing to provide proper legal counsel. Perry represented Handerhan at his sentencing after taking over the case a couple months before from Gover, who was diagnosed with brain cancer and forced to retire.
Handerhan, 56, who is an inmate at a federal correctional institution in Fort Dix,
N.J., tells Kane that he is seeking a new lawyer, but claims he has been denied email access and untapped calls from potential lawyers.
"I am only allotted 300 minutes per month, so it is virtually impossible for me to keep in touch with my wife and kids and my 82-year-old mother," he wrote.
The former Mount Carmel lieutenant and one-time acting chief told the judge he takes full responsibility for the content he was charged with possessing, but claims the "whole picture" of his case wasn't taken into account prior to being sentenced.
"I retained Attorney Matt Gover to represent me and I truly thought that he was going to defend me and that the truth would be known and that the federal government would treat me like a human being with some compassion and understanding. I now have learned that would not be the case."
Handerhan claims he was subjected to an "unbelievable amount of pressure" from Gover when the defendant initially sought a jury trial.
"When I stood my ground on wanting a jury trial, he (Gover) began screaming and yelling at me and said he never thought the case would go to trial," he wrote.
When he met Gover to prepare for trial, Handerhan claims the attorney and a private investigator "double-teamed" and pressured him to sign a plea agreement while he was under extreme mental duress.
Handerhan also said Gover told him Assistant U.S. Attorney James T. Clancy, the prosecutor in the case, was "backing down" because of Handerhan's mental health condition and that he would probably receive no jail time, but be placed on house arrest and ordered to pay a small fine.
Handerhan, who resided in East Pennsboro Township prior to his incarceration, said months went by before he heard from Gover. He said someone from the attorney's office later informed him about Gover suffering from brain cancer and that Perry, who is his former law partner, would handle his sentencing.
The defendant said he met twice with Perry. Handerhan said Perry felt he had a strong case because of his long career in law enforcement and volunteer work, and medical reports presented in the case. Handerhan said Perry commended Gover for doing a "great job" in preparing the case.
But Handerhan claims Perry misfiled a sentencing variance, which he blamed on Gover. "He then had me agree to $75,000 in restitution because he told me he has seen judges impose $1 million or $1.2 million in restitution."
Handerhan claims Perry made a mistake by not calling a doctor to testify on Handerhan's behalf prior to being sentenced.
He said Perry failed to argue on his behalf when Clancy "hammered" him at sentencing.
"Your honor, it just seemed like a deal was made beforehand between Attorneys Clancy and Perry," Handerhan wrote.
Handerhan also claimed Judge William W. Caldwell never read medical reports, an assessment test or letters from friends and family members before imposing sentence.
"I feel so mad that I did not have the ability to prevent this tragedy," he said. "I have devoted my life to helping protect our most vulnerable citizens, our children and our elderly. I feel so helpless because this case has created two new victims, my son and daughter."
Handerhan, who doesn't ask anything specifically of the judge, closes by writing, "Judge Kane, I pray for a miracle that my story would be heard. Without hesitation, I can assure you that I am a man of principle and moral character who allowed a mental health condition break all that I stood for and stand for today. I have insulted my Lord, but I know he will forgive me. I unknowingly broke the law and ask for compassion."
Handerhan, who it was revealed in court suffers from depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), was sentenced by Caldwell on Aug. 21, approximately two years after being indicted in a child pornography investigation. The sentence, which had been continued three times, was handed down after a hearing that included testimony from the defendant and his wife, Joan, and a request by Perry to grant a variance that would reduce the statutory maximum 10-year sentence on the felony offense of possession of child pornography.
Handerhan pleaded guilty to the charge Oct. 5 in federal court. Prior to pleading guilty, Handerhan's scheduled trial was continued five times.
An additional felony of distribution of child pornography, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years incarceration and maximum of 15 years, was dismissed under a plea agreement.
If convicted of both charges at a trial, Handerhan could have faced a prison sentence of 25 years.