A Buffalo man who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia received a sentence of 20 years to life in prison on Monday morning for fatally stabbing a man who was his friend.
In January an Erie County Court jury found Christian D. Gillie, 22, guilty of murder in the second degree, first-degree manslaughter and two burglary counts for killing 23-year-old Robert J. Wheeler in his Lackawanna home on Aug. 9, 2016. Wheeler sustained 25 stab wounds.
"No one is denying that mental illness played a factor," said Judge Kenneth F. Case. "I feel like I have to be a psychiatrist to come up with an appropriate sentence. I think I have."
Case also pronounced a 25-year sentence for the manslaughter conviction and 18 years on each of the burglary convictions, all to run concurrently.
Members of the Wheeler family were in court for the sentencing but declined the opportunity to speak on the record. They had submitted victim impact statements ahead of time, which Case described as heartbreaking.
When it was the defense's turn to speak, attorney Emily Trott said she felt "that I somehow let my client down."
"With his history and a diagnosis of schizophrenia as serious as it was, I feel I should have done more to explain it to the jury," she said.
Turning to those seated in the courtroom, she said, "All these good people in the audience were part of an extended family by which he was joined by sheer love."
Gillie, who admitted to the stabbing, apologized in court and said, "Robert Wheeler was like a brother to me."
The judge said that closeness added an extra layer of tragedy to the situation.
Gillie had been a friend of the Wheeler family, and he and the victim were uncles to the same child. Wheeler’s sister had a son with Gillie’s brother, and that boy, his mother, Wheeler and another sister shared a home on Johnson Street with Wheeler’s mother.
Gillie was familiar with the house, and had even celebrated his 18th birthday there, he later told an interviewer. However, during his January trial, the jury heard how problems related to Gillie's mental illness led him to become alienated from the family while increasing his feelings of paranoia.
Gillie would admit to the same interviewer that he was upset about his isolation from his family as well as the Wheelers when he went to their home and wound up confronting Robert Wheeler in his bedroom and attacking him with a knife.
A friend of Gillie's who came to court to show support said afterward that she hoped he would get treatment for his illness while he is incarcerated so there could be some light ahead for him.