How the Investigation Into a Dad's Death Led Back to Something His Cheerleader Daughter Said in School

People Magazine Investigates looks at the surprising twists in the murder of widower and dad-of-three James Pierson

Cheryl Pierson‘s life looked to be headed in the right direction.

Though her mother had died from kidney disease a year earlier, she was a popular 16-year-old cheerleader and high school junior on February 5, 1986, with a serious boyfriend and plans to become a beautician. Her comfortable middle-class life was shared with two other siblings and their father, James, an electrician, at the family’s home in the Long Island hamlet of Selden, New York.

But that morning, Cheryl’s life took a tragic and unexpected turn.

“I came down the hallway to let the dog out, looked out the window, and I saw my father lying face-down on the concrete driveway,” Cheryl says in an episode of People Magazine Investigates airing Monday, January 30 at 10 p.m. ET, on Investigation Discovery. (An exclusive clip is above.)

“I ran out and I stood over him, I screamed ‘Daddy!’ and he didn’t respond,” she says.

Courtesy Cheryl Pierson

Scared and panicked, Cheryl ran to a neighbor’s house, pounding on the door for help. They sent her back inside with her sister, and police were called.

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An officer who reached the scene about 7 a.m. encountered the same sight, with a large amount of blood pooled around the figure in the driveway. Paramedics performed first aid, to no avail.

Courtesy Cheryl Pierson Cuccio

Seldon police officer Roy Baillard, now retired, recalls the image of James Pierson being rolled over onto his back.

“I remember seeing a bullet wound in his head, and I saw some holes in his jacket,” says Baillard. Other officers who arrived observed several small caliber bullet casings lying on the ground.

Before the week was out, three people would be arrested and charged in connection with the crime.

But the family’s secrets would take longer to emerge. And once they did, a bizarre question asked three months earlier in Cheryl’s homeroom class at Newfield High School would be revealed as the start of a deadly plan Cheryl didn’t realize she had set in motion.

People Magazine Investigates: The Cheerleader and the Hitman premieres Monday, December 30 (10 p.m ET) on Investigation Discovery.

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