Christopher M. Piersee broke into throaty sobs Thursday as he tried to explain why he killed his wife and infant son.


Christopher M. Piersee broke into throaty sobs Thursday as he tried to explain why he killed his wife and infant son.
Piersee, 24, was sentenced by Judge Russell E. Steele to two life terms in prison without parole.
He had earlier pleaded guilty to shooting 21-year-old Patricia “Tish” Yarbrough Piersee in the head and beating to death their five-month-old son, Landon.
The brief but tearful soliloquy during the 25-minute hearing was the only time Piersee publicly talked about the crimes.
Authorities confirmed that, as a security precaution, he was wearing a bulletproof vest under his gray and white prison uniform.
“The last thing I ever meant to do was hurt Tish and Landon,” Piersee said softly. “The drugs that I was on made me confused with what was going on.”
As he uttered his next sentence, Piersee broke down.
“I loved them as much as I could love anything in my entire life, and I miss them.” he said.
A written statement submitted by one of Tish Piersee’s grandmother, Gloria Yarbrough, explained how family members have had nightmares about the murders.
“I have nightmares, too, and my nightmares are the only time I remember what happened.” Piersee told the court.
Piersee’s mother later said her son had tried to kill himself the night of the murders and twice since being arrested.
“I know that none of you can ever forgive me, and I understand that,” Piersee told his wife’s family. “I could never forgive myself.”
Piersee completed his monologue with an apology.
“Just please know that there was never a time when I didn’t love them, and I’m sorry for everything,” he said. “I spend every day thinking about them and I will for the rest of my life. I’m so sorry.”

Family reaction
Tish Piersee’s family said the sentences were too light.
“I wanted death,” Tish Piersee’s father, Eric Yarbrough, said after the hearing.
“He deserves to suffer and be tortured and die,” added her mother, Deb Shaffer. “I wish him the worst for the rest of his life.”
“We were hoping for the death penalty,” said Gloria Yarbrough. “It was so horrendous what he did.”
Piersee’s family said that in addition to suicide attempts, the defendant told them he did not want to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“He wanted the death penalty,” said Piersee’s grandmother, Alberta Piersee. “He wants to die.”
Authorities never offered a motive for the killings, but said Piersee’s marijuana use and abuse of over-the-counter cough medicine were contributing factors.
Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney Jake DeCoster said nothing in Piersee’s past indicated he was violent.
“We looked at that very closely,” DeCoster said.
Gloria Yarbrough said she didn’t believe Piersee’s courtroom speech, and thought his drug use and inability to get a full-time job pushed him to violence.
“We thought she was kicking him out and that’s why he did it,” Gloria Yarbrough said.
Piersee’s family offered a different theory. They say the couple, who were married 2007 in Iowa before moving to LaGrange last year, were happy and that Piersee’s abuse of an over-the-counter cold medicine led to the killings.
“He loved her so much,” said Piersee’s mother, Angie Vaughan. “They were still in the honeymoon phase.”
Alberta Piersee said she had lunch with the couple and the baby the day before the murders.
“He was happy,” Piersee said of her grandson. “The baby was laughing. They were making plans. They were going to get a car, a new bed for the baby.”
Gloria Yarbrough said her son is in counseling and that other family members still are having a difficult time.
“I can’t stand to look at other babies for long,” Yarbrough admitted in her written statement to the court. “There’s no words that are enough to say how we feel. All of us are...are sick to our stomachs.”
Shaffer described her daughter as a “loving an devoted mother.”
“Tish wasn’t just my daughter, but she was my best friend,” Shaffer said. “Chris took the lives of two wonderful people and destroyed our lives, too.”

Life versus death
DeCoster offered Piersee the plea bargain.
He did so because Missouri law makes it extremely difficult to convince a judge that a defendant deserves death.
Such a sentence also requires an automatic appeal.
DeCoster, who has handled death penalty cases before, said he didn’t want to put the victims’ family through such an ordeal.
“We thought (life in prison) was the best possible outcome in this case,” DeCoster said. “There’s no such thing as an open-and-shut death penalty case. This was a strong murder case. It was a weak death penalty case.”
Before sentencing Piersee, Steele talked directly to the defendant. He said Piersee’s crimes were “hard to understand” and said that the “senseless acts” had “forever altered the lives” of the many people who loved the two victims.
“No sentence can ever undo these horrible acts,” Steele said.
Piersee was represented by public defenders David Clayton and Todd Schulze.
Clayton said Piersee was “deeply remorseful” and “has taken responsibility for his actions.”
Clayton said his client agreed to the plea bargain because he “did not want to put both families through a trial.”
“He will spend every day of his life asking for forgiveness for what he’s done,” Clayton said. “He’s deeply, deeply sorry.”
DeCoster has visited many crime scenes, but says he’ll always remember what he saw when he stepped into the Piersee house at 409 N. Main in LaGrange on Feb. 3.
After shooting his wife in the living room, Piersee dragged her lifeless body into the couple’s bedroom, where he then beat to death Landon as the boy lay in his crib.
Amid the blood and rubble in the home, DeCoster spotted a can marked “Landon’s College Fund.”
“That’s something I’ll never forget the rest of my life,” DeCoster said. “When I die, I’ll remember what that can looked like.”

Piersee has 180 days to request a new hearing.
Such a move is unlikely and neither side expects it to happen.
PIersee was to be taken to the Department of Corrections, which will decide where to hold him.
Before returning home to Iowa, Piersee’s mother and grandmother stopped at the Lewis County Jail to say goodbye.
“I think Chris needs to pay for what he did” but “I still love him more than anything in the world,” Vaughan said.
Earlier, in court, one of Tish Piersee’s other grandparents, Wesley Davis, had quoted the Bible. He then looked at Piersee and offered faith-based advice.
“I don’t like what’s happened but, Chris, I forgive you,” Davis said. “I would ask that you ask God for forgiveness.”
Vaughan believes Piersee was spared from the death penalty for a purpose.
“God is not finished with him,” she said. “It’s up to him to figure out what it is. It’s up to him to turn it around and somehow make up for what he’s done.”
As she stood outside the courthouse, clutching a large photo of Landon in her arms as her husband held a picture of Tish, Gloria Yarbrough tried to focus upon the granddaughter who was so full of life.
The one who asked twins to the high school prom because she liked one but didn’t want to hurt the other.
The one who played basketball and rarely was seen without a smile or heard without a good word.
The one who spent almost 30 hours in labor, but was thrilled to give birth to a son.
“She was beautiful inside and out,” Gloria Yarbrough said.
Many family members planned to go from the sentencing to Dover Cemetery in rural Lewis County, where Tish and Landon are buried in each other’s arms in a common casket.
“We want to spend some time with them alone,” Tish’s mother said.