AUGUSTA — In front of a courtroom packed with news media, Andrew Balcer, 19, pleaded guilty Wednesday to murdering his parents on Halloween morning 2016.
A month shy of turning 18, Balcer called police that day, saying Antonio and Alice Balcer were beyond help.
Balcer confessed to detectives several times as well, but pleaded not guilty at arraignment in January 2018 after a judge ruled that Balcer should be treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.
Balcer has subsequently pointed to gender identity struggles and allegations of parental abuse in explaining the killings.
Justice Daniel Billings told Balcer on Wednesday that the attorneys have agreed to an overall sentence of a minimum of 25 years with a cap of 55 years.
The defense is going to argue for less than 55 years at a sentencing hearing, likely in November, also at the Capital Judicial Center.
Murder convictions carry a minimum imprisonment of 25 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.
However, one of the prosecutors, Assistant Attorney General Robert “Bud” Ellis, said after the hearing that under prior U.S. Supreme Court rulings the defendant would not be subject to a life sentence because the offense occurred when Balcer was juvenile.
“It’s obviously a horrible, horrible crime,” Ellis said. “We’ll be addressing what went on and what should happen as a result.”
In interviews with forensic evaluators and with news media, Balcer identifies as a female and indicates a preference for being called “Andrea” rather than Andrew, and “Ms. Balcer” rather than Mr. Balcer.
The judge Wednesday addressed the defendant as “Ms. Balcer,” and Balcer’s attorney Walter McKee, was now referring to his client as “she.”
That female gender identity was something Balcer said would have caused problems in the family and was part of the reason she “snapped” that night. In a jailhouse interview on Friday, Balcer also for the first time referenced alleged mental abuse by her father and sexual abuse between ages 14 and 16 by Alice “Ali” Balcer, saying her mother whispered something earlier that morning that made Balcer believe it would happen again.
The change-of-plea hearing Wednesday was watched by four of Balcer’s family members, a dozen members of the media and police officers.
At the conclusion of the 22-minute proceeding Wednesday, Justice Billings told Balcer, “I accept the plea along with the 55-year cap on these charges.”
Balcer remains held without bail in the Kennebec County jail pending sentencing.
Outside the courthouse, McKee said Balcer confessed to the crimes several times, which is why the guilty pleas were entered in the court. McKee said that the alleged sexual abuse reported by Balcer would be a factor for sentencing.
McKee said Balcer indicated difficulty transitioning from the gender assigned at birth and “that’s something we’ve heard a little about today as we’re using the female pronoun appropriately, something we’ve known about for some period of time.”
Balcer dressed in women’s clothes and was referred to as a female while being held at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, according to staff there.
“It shifted while she was at the jail here in Kennebec County for safety reasons,” McKee said, adding that Balcer has decided to “own” her gender identify at the jail.
McKee said that as Balcer indicated in the jailhouse interview, the motive for the slayings was “part of the pent-up frustration, anger and difficulty. It was obviously a major emotional event.”
As part of the state’s summary of the evidence in the case, Ellis recited details from a 911 call received at 1:33 a.m. Oct. 31, 2016.
An audiotape of that call was played in court during prior hearings about whether Balcer should be treated as an adult.
Balcer told a dispatcher that she “snapped” early on Oct. 31, 2016, and stabbed her mother in the back with a Ka-Bar knife and then her father in the family home at 10 Pine Knoll Road in Winthrop. Balcer also said she killed the family’s Chihuahua Lily because it was making too much noise.
Balcer also pleaded guilty Wednesday to aggravated cruelty to animals, something Ellis said Balcer referred to at the time of the killings as “unfortunate collateral damage.”
At a court hearing in October 2017, McKee, said the defense largely was not contesting what happened during the killings.
Judge Eric Walker, who granted the state’s petition to have Balcer treated as an adult, said in his ruling, “The only possible motive for the murders appears to be Andrew’s perception that his parents were unwilling or unable to deal with his transgender issues. We will never know if Antonio or Alice Balcer would have been accepting, because they were ambushed and murdered by Andrew.”
In a jailhouse interview Friday, Balcer said she had not planned the slayings, but that there was a recurrence of “a high-pitched, constant tone” in her head that appeared once a week for two or three years, and she had been sitting on her bed that morning holding a Ka-Bar knife, which had been used for gutting animals while hunting.
Balcer told detectives she had gone to her parents’ bedroom about 1:30 a.m. Oct. 31, 2016, “reached out my hand to my mother” and “she hugged me around the neck.” Then Balcer says her mother asked her, “Are you having a rough night? Come on, we’ll go to your room and sleep in there.’”
“She hugged me,” Balcer said in the Friday interview at the jail, “and she whispered in my ear, ‘Do you want me to make everything better?’ And I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I must have been having a nightmare of all the things that had happened to me up ’til then.”
As they hugged, Balcer plunged a knife into her back.
The woman was stabbed nine times, falling onto the bed and then the floor.
When Antonio “Tony” Balcer heard the noises, he rushed to help his wife. Balcer stabbed him a dozen times, and a trail of blood led from the bedroom into the kitchen where Antonio Balcer was found face up on the floor.
Assistant Attorney General Ellis provided details about the parents’ wounds that were contained in the autopsy report by Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Clare Bryce.
In describing a police interview, Ellis said Balcer did not feel malicious toward the parents, and chose a knife which was quieter than a gun. Ellis quotes Balcer as saying, “The completion of the goal for my original plan, I guess, was both my parents dead. That was really my goal in the thing.”
Ellis said Balcer opted to kill Alice Balcer first because she was a light sleeper and then Antonio Balcer.
“The defendant repeatedly stabbed his mother on the bed and on the floor as she went down to the floor,” Ellis said. Antonio Balcer responded to her screams, and Balcer stabbed him as well.
“The defendant indicated that as Antonio Balcer was being stabbed, feeling severe annoyance and contempt for him, indicated at one point picking up the gun to finish off the parents if they were not dead, but that was obviously not necessary,” Ellis told the judge.
Ellis said Balcer told detectives, “I just straight up murdered both of my parents there. I know I should have been having some sort of guilt or remorse, but I just didn’t feel much of anything.”
Christopher Balcer was in his bedroom in the basement of the family home on the morning of the slayings. He started to go up the stairs in response to the screams, he said, when his brother confronted him and asked if he wanted to die that day.
After Christopher Balcer said no and begged for his life, his brother let him leave the house. Christopher Balcer fled to a neighbor’s house.
In the interview at jail, Andrea Balcer also said she was a victim of physical and mental abuse by Antonio Balcer, who struck her. “He called it disciplining me,” Andrea Balcer said. “He never, like, close-fisted hit me,” she said, describing it as an open-handed smack. “It was always on the back or the top of the head, where it wouldn’t leave noticeable marks.”
Christopher Balcer has said his parents would have been supportive of his brother’s gender identity issues. Christopher Balcer also refuted all the abuse allegations made by his brother.
In the jailhouse interview Friday, Balcer said she knew about her gender identity when she was younger and shared it with her parents when she was 3 or 4 years old. “I wanted to grow up and be a woman,” she said. “They kind of sat me down and told me and kind of physically forced into me that that was something that was not acceptable.”
Later, after years of being raised as a male, she started to question her gender identity. Balcer said she never shared that disclosure with her older brother because she feared his reaction after seeing how their parents had reacted. She also said she did not reveal anything about the emotional or sexual abuse to friends or to school counselors or other family members.
Alice and Antonio “Tony” Balcer, both 47 when they died, met while they served in the U.S. Coast Guard. She had worked at the Kennebec Valley Humane Society and the Winthrop Veterinary Hospital, and he was the chaplain in several regional motorcycle groups, often officiating their weddings and services and earning the nickname “Rev.”
Andrew Balcer, who identifies as a woman since the Halloween 2016 killings of his parents, answers questions during an interview Friday at the Kennebec County jail in Augusta. Balcer said he is remorseful and would take back the killings if he could. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)