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Two men sentenced to jail in Clarkson lacrosse player assault

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CANTON — The family of the Clarkson University lacrosse player attacked last summer received praise at sentencing Monday from the judge and the attorney for one of the assailants for not seeking harsher justice.

Bryan A. Bicknell, 21, of 342 West Parishville Road, Parishville, and Dakota J. Vallance, 19, of 399 Buckton Road, Winthrop, both received 180 days in St. Lawrence County jail and five years of probation for second-degree criminal assault, a class D violent felony.

In January the two men admitted that at 1:52 a.m. Aug. 24, they attacked Donald J.W. Whelley, then 20, on Maple Avenue in the village of Potsdam.

The two struck Mr. Whelley repeatedly in the head, causing him “countless fractures and dislocating his face,” according to the indictment. Mr. Whelley required facial reconstruction surgery because of his injuries.

Sentenced Monday in St. Lawrence County Court by Judge Jerome J. Richards, Mr. Bicknell was taken straight to jail. Mr. Vallance, however, who was 18 at the time of the attack, was given the opportunity to earn youthful offender status, which would wipe his record clean, if he completes one year of interim probation. His sentencing was set for March 30, when he will then serve his jail time followed by probation. He also was ordered to serve 100 hours of community service.

Chief Assistant District Attorney David A. Haggard read a victim impact statement submitted by Mr. Whelley, who was not present in court.

Mr. Whelley said he and his family decided to pursue the plea deal allowing his two assailants to “pay for what they have done, with a lesser impact on their safety by letting them serve their time in the county jail versus time in the state institutions.”

In addition to the pain he suffered, he said the attack left him with metal in his face that will give him a newfound disdain for the north country’s “biting cold weather,” which he used to enjoy for winter sports.

“I feel for the north country, who has been fantastic to me, my folks and my sister. They did not need to have this black mark upon their slate,” Mr. Whelley wrote.

Commending Mr. Whelley, Charles B. Nash, Mr. Bicknell’s attorney, said: “I tried to ask myself, if I was the parent, if I would have taken the same position, but I don’t know that I would have been big enough. It took a big person and a big family, and they deserve an appreciation from my client, if he has such appreciation.”

Judge Richards told the two men that the Whelleys deserve a lot of credit for taking a position that helped keep them from state prison.

Given an opportunity to address the court, Mr. Bicknell was chided by the judge for his seemly insincere apology.

“I didn’t mean for Donald to get hurt that night, but ...,” Mr. Bicknell paused.

Judge Richards said he didn’t buy it.

“What strikes me is that you and Mr. Vallance were high-fiving and that, in my mind, casts aside your claim that you didn’t intend what was going on,” Judge Richards said. “I guess I don’t know you very well, but I get the impression that you are proud of what you did.”

Mr. Vallance, for his part, said: “I want to apologize to the Whelley family and anyone else I hurt by my violent actions that night. I take full responsibility. I want to apologize to my family; they didn’t raise me like this.”

Outside the courtroom, Mr. Whelley’s parents, Stephen M. and Ruth W., said they were glad to put the case behind them.

“A long court trial would have only brought out a black mark on the north country, and it doesn’t need that,” Mr. Whelley said.

In addition to their jail and probation sentence, each man was ordered to pay $7,868.14 in restitution and court fines, fees and surcharges amounting to $1,161.81.

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