Two of the most impactful things in the life of Aubri Grace Pluhar’s son happened before he could even walk: his father was killed, and his mother was charged with murder.
In Harford County Circuit Court on Friday, Pluhar was sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing her son’s father, Andrew Pizanis, in 2017.
Pluhar, 25, of Havre de Grace, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in December 2019 and reached an agreement with prosecutors for a sentence of 12 to 25 years.
Pluhar had a well-attended sentencing hearing, forcing judge Paul W. Ishak to move the proceedings to a larger courtroom that could accommodate the number of family members who turned out to support both sides of the case. He moved the proceedings to the courthouse’s ceremonial courtroom, a semi-circular, carpeted room filled with stained wood and hung paintings of past judges. More than 30 people crowded its benches Friday.
Havre de Grace police responded to the 800 block of Lafayette Street on July 20, 2017, where they found Pizanis suffering from a severe stab wound to his abdomen. Neighbors had also heard the two arguing early in the morning.
According to court documents, Pluhar initially told police that she had not stabbed her boyfriend, though they had been arguing. Police came back to the home with a search warrant and found a kitchen knife under a bassinet close to where Pizanis had been found. There was no blood trail leading to the weapon.
Pizanis was taken to University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, where he died from his injuries the same day.
Pizanis’ immediate family and some friends were present for the sentencing, many reading lengthy statements advocating Pluhar receive the maximum allowable sentence.
Assistant State’s Attorney Dair Pillai read some victim impact statements, while others chose to read them out to the judge and Pluhar, who sat motionless.
Pizanis’ aunt, Trish Canamarata, said the entire family still aches from losing Pizanis. She spoke through tears during her statement.
Pillai said the wound Pizanis suffered was not consistent with a struggle. It was long and deep, piercing through two of his ribs and striking his spine. She also maintained that Pizanis was trying to leave, as he was found with a backpack, before Pluhar stabbed him.
Pluhar’s attorney, Catherine Flynn, said the defense’s position of the facts of the case differed from the state’s; she would have cross-examined the medical examiner and maintained neighbors only said they heard a commotion, nothing more.
“Our position about exactly what happened is different that the state’s,” Flynn said. “This is a tragedy all the way around.”
Pluhar’s friend Trish Lori also spoke in her defense, saying the verdict’s effect on Pluhar’s child should be considered, and that disparaging words toward Pluhar served no purpose.
“We are here for Andrew and Aubri’s son today,” Lori said. “[He] is going to be the most affected.”
Before the judge left the room to deliberate, Pluhar was given the chance to speak. She turned to Pizanis’ family and addressed them directly. They did not look at her while she apologized in a shaky voice.
“If I could go back, I would,” she said. “I am sorry. I am so sorry that he lost his father, and it breaks my heart now he is going to lose his mother.”
Ishak meted out the sentence on the upper end of the sentencing guidelines, but below the plea agreement’s maximum, after hearing testimony about her 2½-year-old son.
“What the court does has adverse impacts on children,” Ishak said. “We must be mindful that we do not want to cause harm to a child.”
Ishak was convinced that Pluhar acted impulsively and was not a remorseless killer. His sentence was “not the end of this case,” he said.
Flynn said she plans to file a motion to retain Pluhar’s right to modify her sentence within five years of the conviction.
Pluhar had been free for two-and-a-half years to care for the newborn child, who was born shortly after Pizanis was killed. One of Pluhar’s sisters will care for the boy while she is incarcerated, Flynn said after the hearing. The child’s grandparents on Pizanis’ side are also permitted visitation at least once a week.
As the hearing ended, handcuffs clicked around Pluhar’s thin wrists. Her parting words to her family as a sheriff’s deputy led her off were “I love you.”