AUGUSTA — Andrew T. Balcer was sentenced Tuesday to serve 40 years in prison for murdering both parents in the family’s Winthrop home during the early-morning hours of Halloween 2016.
The hearing, before Justice Daniel Billings, took place in front of about 75 people, including the victims’ relatives and friends and a bevy of news cameras.
Balcer, who turned 20 on Monday, now identifies as a woman called Andrea. She was about a month shy of turning 18 when the killings took place. Balcer took a hunting knife and stabbed her mother nine times in the back at about 1 a.m. Oct. 31, 2016.
Balcer, who has been in custody since that morning, wore a two-piece green jail uniform and with a lock of longer dark hair covering much of the left side of her face. Her attorney, Walter McKee, asked for Balcer’s handcuffs to be removed so she could take notes, and the judge ordered it.
Alice Balcer’s cries woke Antonio “Tony” Balcer, who ran into the bedroom and became the next victim, leaving a trail of blood from the bedroom to the kitchen, where he was found face up on the floor.
Next, Andrea Balcer stabbed the family’s Chihuahua to quiet the dog’s barking, while sparing an older brother who fled the bloody scene.
After a series of hearings in juvenile court, the state succeeded in having Balcer, who was 17 at the time, prosecuted as an adult.
She pleaded guilty Sept. 19 at the Capital Judicial Center under an agreement with the state that caps the maximum sentence at 55 years in prison. The state had been asking for Balcer to serve all of that time. The defense was suggesting the 25-year minimum sentence would be appropriate for someone who was a juvenile when the crimes were committed.
“I made a terrible mistake, one that cost the lives of the two people that gave me life and raised me,” Andrea Balcer said.
“I am only here to ask for one thing: that is the forgiveness of my family,” she added.
Balcer said she knows she’s hurt those who loved her.
“I am truly sorry for what I have done. I have killed my parents,” she said. “I will always remember what I have done.”
In outlining his reason for the sentence, Billings said, “The crime could not be more horrific. The degree of violence in this case could not be more severe.”
He also noted that it is a crime of domestic violence.
Billings said he noted that in the 911 call, “The defendant seemed thrilled by her actions on the night in question.” The judge said he attributed some of that to her immaturity and lack of emotional development.
Balcer hung her head and looked down at the defense table Tuesday as the 911 tape played over the courtroom speakers. She tells the dispatcher she killed her parents but doesn’t know why.
Balcer says the same thing when she’s interviewed by Maine State Police Detective Abbe Chabot, telling her, “I can remember most of what I did, but I can’t remember why I did it.”
In a jailhouse interview days before that plea, Balcer alleged she was molested for years by her mother and suffered physical and mental abuse by her father, all inside the home at 10 Pine Knoll Road.
“Nobody really thought there was anything going on,” Balcer said. “No one would think that two respectable people would ever do or have done such things. I just want people to know that even when something seems perfect, there might be something much more worse going on underneath.”
Christopher Balcer, the older brother, vehemently denied those abuse allegations and has said he had no idea why the slayings were committed.
Andrea Balcer said she knew about her gender identity when she was younger and told her parents about it 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.”
She was raised as male, and suggested that a gender identity crisis — along with a fear that the sexual molestation would resume after a hiatus of a year or so — caused her to snap that night.
Balcer also offered to kill her older brother Christopher, but spared him when he said he did not want to die. Christopher Balcer fled to a neighbor’s house. He now lives in Ohio and has rejected Andrea Balcer’s overtures, including a letter in which she apologizes for killing their parents.
Christopher Balcer, who attended Tuesday’s sentencing at the Capital Judicial Center, responded with his own letter, saying the crimes are unforgivable and he wants no contact.
“I still hear our dearest mother’s screams, every night as I fall asleep. Every morning as I awaken, they echo in my head. Her screams as she was stabbed by the son she doted on so much, the son she only wanted the world for, and would accept nothing less,” Christopher Balcer said. “I remember the foul things you accused her of, and the looks of horror upon the family’s faces as they heard about them. You are an inhuman creature and the fact that you continue to pretend otherwise sickens me.”
In court, Andrea Balcer clutched her sides and sobbed quietly as Christopher urged the judge to impose the full sentence for “a remorseless murderer.”
Both parents were 47. Alice “Ali” Balcer had served in the U.S. Coast Guard and worked at a local veterinary hospital. Antonio Balcer retired from the Coast Guard and was a member of several motorcycle clubs where he functioned as a chaplain. His mother, Christine Doval of Alaska, speaking for herself and reading a letter from her daughter, talked of the immense suffering the slayings caused them.
Many people told the judge Tuesday of missing special “Ali hugs,” of her compassion and of contributions the Balcer couple made to the community.
Andrea Balcer herself called police that morning almost immediately to tell them about the murders. She said she “just snapped.” She surrendered to police when they arrived. Portions of the call were played in the courtroom Tuesday during the presentation by the prosecution.
Balcer also has talked about hearing “a tone” in her head, something she had heard before, and that affected thinking.
“I figured it’s 13 kilohertz, just a high-pitched, constant tone,” she said, adding that it was present around the time of the slaying as well.
In an interview with Debra Baeder, chief forensic psychologist with the State Forensic Service, Balcer said that a day before the murders, Antonio Balcer made a derogatory remark about transgender people and there was a confrontation over it.
Balcer told Baeder, “I killed my parents because they suppressed who I was for so long and forced me to be someone I wasn’t for so many years. I snapped.”
Alice’s brother Carl Pierce, in a written victim impact statement, told the judge, “To believe our family is intolerant or unaccepting is to know nothing of us. Andrea’s grandfather has funded her defense with what he had expected to use for her college education. Unfortunately, the most dangerous thing in that house was Andrea. There was no reason for Alice and (Tony) to die that night other than for Andrea’s desire to kill them.”
In court, Pierce said the family is fully supportive and concerned about Andrea’s well-being: “Your honor, I want Andrea to know I hope she is well.”
“To claim the murders of Alice, Tony and the killing of Lily had anything to do with gender identity is an insult. It is an insult to our family. It is an insult to society,” Pierce said. “But most importantly it is an insult to the members of the LGBTQ community whose lives actually are at risk because of their lifestyle beliefs. To justify these killings because of her identity beliefs is truly a cowardly act, one of which Andrea should be ashamed.”
He said Balcer’s allegations against her mother are “absolutely preposterous” to all who knew her.
Balcer took notes on a yellow legal pad as Pierce spoke.
“Society has every reason to be terrified of her,” he said, adding, “Andrea broke our hearts, your honor. But we still love her.”
Assistant Attorney General Robert “Bud” Ellis, asked the judge to impose 55 years for the crimes.
“This was an extremely vicious, cruel, indescribable crime,” he said. “Despite his age, despite his lack of criminal history, there should be no lessening of the sentence.”
At the hearing, McKee referred to Balcer’s identity struggle, saying she did not feel it was welcomed.
“This was an impossible conflict of gender identity,” he said.
“Andrea is a juvenile offender,” McKee told Billings on Tuesday.
McKee noted in his sentencing memo a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision saying that a life sentence without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders is unconstitutional.
He also wrote, “Sentencing Andrea to anywhere near the 55 years the state has suggested would cast off any appreciable consideration of Andrea’s age, something this court should refuse to do.”
McKee quoted from an evaluation of Balcer by Charles Robinson, a private forensic psychologist, who assessed her potential for future violent behavior. Robinson’s report concluded, “These observations coupled with the extreme rarity of parricide would support a risk management category of low risk for Andrew absent situational determinants not under his control.”
McKee also quoted from an impact statement by Balcer’s grandmother and Alice Balcer’s mother, Debra Pierce, who wrote that she wants “the best possible help for Andrea who has a mind that should not be wasted. I understand that she wants to commit herself to academics, perhaps working towards a college degree, do some sort of job while in custody and learn something that might be of use to others in the near term or to her in the distant future. I think Alice would want no less.”
Andrea’s grandfather, Arthur Pierce, who has supported Andrea throughout the case and visited her frequently, has never discussed the killings. The murders occurred shortly after the family returned from visiting Maine Maritime Academy, which Andrea had hoped to attend. Pierce asked for continued re-evaluation of Andrea’s mental state and behavior while she’s incarcerated.
McKee said that imposing any sentence close to the cap, as requested by the state, “would require a complete disregard that the person this court is sentencing was a juvenile with no negative history and who was dealing with a teenage gender identity strife the likes of which few can appreciate.”
McKee’s memo was accompanied by photos of the defendant in younger years on a bicycle and at a table with Christopher, as well as numerous certificates for academic achievement at Winthrop High School.
McKee reacted by email to the sentencing. “All told the sentence was reasonable given all of the circumstances,” he said. “There were no winners here though. There never are in cases like this.”
Attorney Walter McKee and Andrea Balcer during sentencing Tuesday at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)