Dark family secrets lead to dad shot dead in contract killing
09/26/2017 1:28 pm PDT
Along with her older brother Jim and little sister JoAnn, Cheryl was raised in a quiet suburb on Long Island -- by all appearances, a typical middle-class life.
"It was an average family," said Cheryl Cuccio. "My mother was a stay-at-home mom. My father worked as an electrician. Very strict parent my father was, very abrasive kind of person. My mother was very mild-mannered. [He] was very dominant. People feared him."
Cheryl's high school sweetheart Rob was one of those people.
How would you describe Cheryl's father?
"He was very strict, very rough, and very intimidating," said Rob Cuccio.
"We ate dinner, we had to eat counter-clockwise, meat, potato, vegetables," said Cheryl. "We couldn't eat out of order, we weren't allowed to drink, we weren't allowed to talk, we weren't allowed to look up."
Despite Cheryl's portrayal, by all accounts, her father Jim Pierson was a well-respected man in the community.
"He was more like a man's man," said Cheryl. "He basically spent a lot of time with my brother. They did all the sports together, and I really didn't have much of a relationship with my father. I feared him and I tried not to stay around him that much."
But that all changed around the age of 10, when Cheryl's mother was stricken by a rare blood disease, which left her chronically hospitalized.
"I would go to school during the day, I would help my grandparents raise my sister, and then when my father would come home from work, I would go with him up to the hospital to see my mother," said Cheryl. "It just totally went into 'take care of everybody' mode."
By this time, Cheryl's older brother had moved out of the house, frustrated by his father's heavy-handed ways.
"He was the coach of my brother's baseball team and he had gotten thrown out of Little League for cursing out his own players on the team, not even someone else's players," said Cheryl.
Cheryl soon found herself spending more time with her dad.
"Believe it or not when my sister was born I kind of felt like my mother was paying attention to her," said Cheryl. "I had the middle-child syndrome that no one cared about me. Everybody doted on my sister and I felt like I was losing my mom, and so all of the sudden now my father is paying attention to me and it felt nice that somebody actually was appreciating me and taking care of me."
Cheryl was just 11 years old. The only parent she'd ever been close to was dying.
That's when, Cheryl claims, her father's attention took a twisted turn. She went from being his daughter to his demented desire.
"Well, on the way to the hospital in the car he's like, 'Oh, come over and sit close to me,'" Cheryl Cuccio tells Crime Watch Daily. "He would put his arm around me in the car. I would sit in the middle spot, we had like a station wagon. As his arm was around my shoulder his hand would go lower and kind of start like groping my breast, and you know, it would go lower, and it was a little uncomfortable, but he always seemed loving. I never had seen that side of him because we weren't an affectionate family. We didn't show love. We didn't say 'I love you.' We weren't huggy-kissy, anything like that, and I was like 'Oh, this is a softer side of him,' because I was scared of him."
According to Cheryl, the attention she experienced began to escalate.
"He was teaching me baseball and we would watch the Yankee games, and he watched the Yankee games in his bedroom, and I would have to go watch the TV laying next to him, and he would force my hand to touch him. So it got to the point where it wasn't just touching over the clothes, it was touching under the clothes," said Cheryl.
Alone and vulnerable, this so-called "affection" soon went to the darkest of all places.
"My father had called me one day and he said he couldn't fit in our attic space. We had pull-down stairs and he'd say, 'I need you to go up in the attic and get something,'" said Cheryl. "I had elastic shorts on, and I said OK, and he pulled the attic steps down, and as I went to go up the ladder he kind of just came up from behind me and just pulled my shorts down and kind of came up from behind me, had his pants down and just kind of inserted himself in me. I was 11."
Sadly, Cheryl claims that was only the beginning.
What would happen if you tried to pull away?
"He'd get physical, and angry," said Cheryl. "I mean there was times when he was on top of me and I put the pillow over my face, and he was OK with that as long as he got, you know, he got what he wanted, as long as he got the satisfaction, he was OK with that.
"I was scared. If I pulled away, he got physical," said Cheryl.
Did you ever tell him "No, this hurts me?"
"I did," said Cheryl. "I did. I said 'No,' I said 'Please don't.' It was easier to get it over with. He would make everybody's life more miserable and hurt other people, he would kick the dog."
And in case you're wondering, "kick the dog" wasn't just an expression.
"We were at the hospital one day, all day. He kicked my dog so hard for peeing on the kitchen floor, because nobody was there to let it out, that the dog died," said Cheryl. "This is the type of person he was."
Any hope of her mother coming to the rescue ended tragically. She died when Cheryl was 15.
Cheryl was left to fend for herself. But a new man in her life is there to help her fight back.
"At the funeral, when my mom died, people would say to you, 'Don't worry, your mom's going to protect you and watch over you, she'll watch you, she'll watch you,' so now I have thinking in my head now, 'She's in Heaven watching over this is happening.' So at the funeral, I had promised her in the casket, I said, 'Mom, you're going to be seeing things you're not going to like, and I'm sorry that I'm disappointing you, but you're going to see things that you're not going to like, and just know that I don't like it and I've tried to stop it.'"
Then, in her freshman year of high school, Cheryl met Rob Cuccio, an upperclassman, and for Rob it was love at first sight.
"I actually thought she was gorgeous, I still think she's gorgeous, but seeing her across the gym it was one of those moments," Rob Cuccio tells Crime Watch Daily. "She was quirky. She really was. She had a good sense of humor. She was just very nice, very nice genuine person."
The two began dating, but always under the watchful eye and heavy hand of Cheryl's father.
"Cheryl wasn't allowed out of the house, and if she was she had to be back in by 8 o'clock," said Rob. "Dating Cheryl was not easy.
"In the beginning was actually good. I got along well with her father," said Rob. "Her brother had moved out and I took over that role, helping him do some of the manly chores. The more I was there, the more I noticed that something wasn't correct. It didn't take long for me to get the bug in my head of what was going on there."
What was going on, according to Cheryl is horrifying, claiming she was being sexually abused at the hands of her own father.
"I would have to sit on my father's lap in front of Rob," said Cheryl. "One time I gave Rob the ice cream before I gave it to my father and my father slapped me right across the face in front of Rob because I didn't give the ice cream to my father, it was disrespectful, I didn't give it to my father first. The more Rob came around, the more he was showing that 'This is my girl, not yours.'"
"He kind of acted like a possessive boyfriend," said Rob Cuccio. "Always asking her to sit on his lap. Always hugging her, kissing her on the cheek or having her kiss him on the cheek, and he would always shoot me a look as I was watching, and it would be something that I would do if I was trying to show somebody that it was my girl. It just didn't make sense, there was a lot of things that didn't make sense."
Despite having a boyfriend, the sexual abuse continued.
"He would say stuff to me like 'Oh, just pretend I'm Rob,' sick stuff like that, like I would enjoy it better because I had a guy friend now," said Cheryl.
But Cheryl kept her dark secret, for now there was a concern even greater than her own well-being.
"My father became very jealous and possessive, and if Rob wanted to take me out, he would threaten to say that he was going to start on my sister," said Cheryl. "I'd come home and there he would be in the bed watching TV, bare chest, with my sister under the covers sleeping on his chest, just like how it started with me. And I'd walk in and he'd smirk at me, like, 'Keep going out and the same thing's going to happen to your sister.'"
Even more disturbing, at the time, Cheryl's little sister Joanne was only 8 years old.
Why didn't Cheryl run away, go to the police?
"I didn't run away because I wouldn't leave my sister and I couldn't take an 8-year-old with me. And I didn't go to the police because he had so many friends that were police and he told me every day that nobody would believe me," said Cheryl.
But Cheryl's defenses finally crumbled.
"One day we were having a little bit of an argument and Rob said to me, 'I know you're sleeping with your father,'" said Cheryl. "I said 'You're wrong, I don't know what you're talking about, how could you say that?'"
"You know, it just wasn't right, so I pressed Cheryl on it and I continued to press her on it until she finally started crying and said 'You're right,'" said Rob.
"And then I started to cry, and I said 'Please, please don't tell,' I said, 'Because if you tell, he'll hurt my sister,'" said Cheryl.
"And I remember thinking 'Wow. Thinking is one thing, but now having the confirmation is completely a different story,'" said Rob. "I guess it was that time in the car when she told me, that she confided in me, that I knew that I was going to be with her the rest of my life, no matter what it took, I was going to stay with her."
It was shortly after that dramatic confession that another Long Island scandal caught Cheryl's attention.
"The news came on about this woman who lived in Mastic," said Cheryl. "Her name was Beverly Wallace, who hired somebody to kill her husband for physically, mentally abusing her, and I just remember listening to it and going 'Oh my God. This could be a way out for me.' I didn't think of the murder part and I didn't think about the killing part. I just wanted it to stop. I couldn't take it anymore. I was so worried about my sister. I didn't care about me.
"I was thinking about it all night. While he was raping me that night, I was thinking about it. That morning I was thinking about it," said Cheryl. "I went to school, I just sat in my home room, Sean Pica was in front of me, and I just said 'Who would be crazy enough to kill somebody for money?' And he said 'I would.'
"He said 'I would if the money was right' -- that's his exact words. And I said to him, 'Well, how much would you do it for?' And he said 'A thousand dollars.'
"I said 'A thousand dollars,' he goes 'Yep,'" said Cheryl. "And I go, 'I know somebody that would do it for a thousand dollars,' and he said 'Who?' And I said 'Me.' And he said 'OK.' That was it," said Cheryl.
How did he react when you told him the target was your father?
"No reaction," said Cheryl.
Did you tell Sean why you wanted your father dead?
"Did not. Didn't ask," said Cheryl. "Just wanted to do it for the thousand dollars."
"You know, it was funny, because when I found out I said 'Come on, Cheryl, let's just run,'" said Rob Cuccio. "I said 'I know I'm 17 and you're 16. Not a great life, but we can go.' And she wouldn't leave her sister, she said 'I can't leave JoAnn.'"
But Cheryl and her classmate Sean Pica never spoke of the plot again, nor was any money exchanged.
After you met with Sean what did you think was going to happen?
"Nothing," said Rob. "Absolutely nothing, and I believe I convinced Cheryl that nothing was going to happen."
It certainly looked that way until two months later, when Cheryl woke up for school one morning, looked out the back window and saw her father lying in the driveway.
"I go running out the door, I stand over his body, I'm calling his name, he doesn't move," said Cheryl. "I saw a little blood, but his head was kind of face-down and turned a little bit."
Cheryl's neighbor calls an ambulance and at first, all seems well.
"Once the ambulance is there he tells me everything's going to be all right, dad just slipped and fell on the ice," said Cheryl.
Then, Cheryl received the shocking truth.
"Police officers come in the kitchen, 'Sorry for your loss,'" said Cheryl. "'Sorry for your loss? I thought he just slipped on the ice.' Joanne starts crying. Police officer says to me 'Do you know who would've wanted to kill your father?'
"I said 'Kill my father?' First, I didn't even know he was dead, What are you talking about 'Kill my father?' Then I start crying. I didn't even know he was shot at this time. So then he takes me in the other room and says your father was shot five times," said Cheryl.
Suddenly, another Long Island scandal is born, and Cheryl Pierson is about to become a reluctant tabloid star.
James Pierson is dead -- shot five times in his driveway on his way to work. Three teenagers -- his daughter Cheryl, her boyfriend Rob Cuccio and classmate Sean Pica -- are now scrambling to hide their murder-for-hire plot.
Cheryl and Rob found $400 in her father's safe -- $600 short of what Pica demanded.
"I told him he would get the rest of it as soon as everything calmed down," said Rob. "'No problem, when you get the money.' Which I was glad, you know, you had all these things going through your head as to how this conversation's going to go, and it couldn't have gone any easier. I didn't think we were going to get caught. Maybe that was the 17-year-old naive kid that I was. I didn't think that it was ever going to come back to us."
But it doesn't take police long to unravel the juvenile scheme at the heart of the murder.
"I believe Sean spoke to a couple different people and it started going around the high school," said Cheryl. "That's what I think."
Both Cheryl and Rob are brought in for questioning by police.
"They started to get loud and get in my face and tell me that they knew that I shot Cheryl's father. I said 'No, I didn't shoot Cheryl's father,' and they said 'Prove to me that you didn't shoot him.' I said 'Because I paid the guy who shot him,'" said Rob.
"You know, without having 'Law and Order' on every half hour, every hour, I didn't know to ask for a lawyer," said Rob. "I was scared, I was 17, and I had two guys with guns yelling at me, so yeah, 'I didn't do it, it was him.'"
Did Cheryl tell them the police what her father had done to her?
"Not initially," said Cheryl. "I would've kept that secret to my grave."
"After that they sat back and they knew that they had the case and I said 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a second, guys, you don't know why,'" said Rob. "I said 'Let me explain to you why the man was killed,' and then I was the one that told them Cheryl's secret."
Did they believe him?
"They did," said Cheryl. "They were very good, because they said to me 'For a 42-year-old man that had a sick wife, that was never home for all those years,' when they had went through the house they didn't find any Playboy magazines, when they investigated it for a week, he never had a girlfriend, never had a date, there was just too many odd things for a 42-year-old man never to be involved in any women," said Rob.
Rob's dad was a cop, you could have gone to him and said "Look, this is the situation, this guy is raping his daughter, my girlfriend." And he probably would have gotten something done about it.
"In hindsight that's probably what I should've done," said Rob Cuccio.
Instead, you took part in a contract killing.
"I did. I did, which I never thought was going to happen," said Rob. "I honestly didn't believe it was going to happen. And then when it did, now I knew I was in some pretty deep stuff."
Cheryl ultimately entered into a guilty plea.
"I did. I did the wrong thing," said Cheryl. She spent three and a half months in prison.
For his part, Rob Cuccio was sentenced to five years' probation.
But the trigger-man, Sean Pica, would serve 16 years in prison.
Cheryl's problems were just getting started. Outrageous headlines screamed across the New York tabloids, and many were outraged, some claiming a 16-year-old daughter could mastermind her father's murder, and be out in less than four months.
While her older brother stood by her story of incest, her little sister Joanne didn't. Neither did her grandmother and aunt on her father's side. And that's where the courts sent her to live.
"They sent me back to my aunt and grandmother's house, which was, talk about stressful," said Cheryl. "I tried to, you know, be with my sister, and she was angry with me of course. She didn't understand, she was only 8."
At just 16 Cheryl was in the eye of a hurricane of sensational headlines, and upon her release she was hounded by reporters.
"They were not kind to me," said Cheryl. "They would be yelling 'How many times a day did you have sex with your father?' Like they were asking me what flavor ice cream I was having for the day."
As if that wasn't enough, Cheryl was also carrying yet another secret -- an unborn child.
"I thought 100 percent it was my father's child, 100 percent I thought it was," said Cheryl. She lost the baby on purpose, "Because I thought it was my father's. I miscarried on purpose. I was pushing something up there." It turns out the child was actually Rob's.
"I was 16," said Cheryl. "And I was living at my aunt and grandmother's house and that's all I kept saying, was that I was pregnant and that I killed their son. Their brother. It was a horrible, horrible environment to be in there."
Somehow, Cheryl and Rob remained together. Their remarkable love endured the turmoil of sexual abuse, murder and incarceration. They've been married 28 years and have raised two successful daughters -- yet they nearly lost it all when Rob was hit by a massive heart attack at the age of 44.
Rob had no pulse for 43 minutes. Doctors were ready to give up when Cheryl pleaded with them to keep going.
"They said 'We'll give him 10 more minutes, we'll try for 10 more minutes but after that there's nothing else we can do,'" said Cheryl. "After eight, he gets a pulse.
"In that eight minutes my two daughters stand on each side of his bed and cheer him on and say 'Come on Dad, you can do it, wake up for us, you can do it, Dad. Don't leave us! We need you! Mom needs you!" said Cheryl.
"Even when I wanted to give up she wouldn't let me," said Rob. "And today, you know it's, it's amazing. It really is that she was able to pay me back for everything that I did, and I wasn't looking for a payback."
Cheryl recently wrote a book sharing her amazing story of love, strength and perseverance, titled Incest, Murder and a Miracle. She and Rob are pictured holding hands on the cover.
"That's why Cheryl put the cover of the book of us walking through that tunnel," said Rob. "No matter what happened before, you just persevere, you keep going and you can make it. You can make it."
"I just want people to know that you could still have a good life. It's work and it's hard," said Cheryl. "It's an inspirational book. We've had cancer patients read the book and say 'If you guys can go through all these things, then I can go through one more day of fighting cancer.' That's what we want you to know. Just because you've been kicked you can still get up."
So what about the young student who pulled the trigger that day, Sean Pica? Crime Watch Daily sits down with Pica for an all-new interview. How the former Boy Scout and the son of a NYPD officer became an unlikely hit-man. Does he now regret his decision?