LAWRENCEVILLE - With several years in prison on the line, Jason Pirkle told a judge Tuesday that knifing people in self-defense was part of his upbringing.
"That's the way I was raised," Pirkle told Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Ronnie Batchelor, prior to sentencing. "If it gets too thick - pull a knife."
Obliging that impulse, Pirkle fatally stabbed his younger brother in a front-yard brawl in May last year outside the Lawrenceville town home they shared. Facing murder charges in a trial set to begin Tuesday afternoon, Pirkle struck a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony.
Batchelor sided with prosecutors and sentenced Pirkle to 15 years in prison. Pirkle's attorney, Mike White, had asked for five fewer years in exchange for the guilty plea.
Pirkle "cried to me like a baby" during prison visits, White said, adding that his client is "truly remorseful."
White said Pirkle's mother, who did not attend the hearing, also stabbed someone more than 20 years ago and was not charged.
"There's only one rule in street survival, and that's that there are no rules," White told the judge.
Pirkle, 32, stabbed his brother, Tracy, 30, six times with a pocket knife, with two of the wounds being "significant," said Assistant District Attorney Jon Setzer. One wound punctured Tracy Pirkle's heart. He died an hour later at Gwinnett Medical Center.
Police believe the fight was triggered when Tracy Pirkle struck his wife after the couple had argued about a misplaced wallet in their Hampton Square Drive home. In court Tuesday, Jason Pirkle admitted the two had been drinking heavily - and that he had downed Xanax pills not prescribed to him - prior to the tiff.
A neighbor who watched the fight lent credence to Jason Pirkle's self-defense claims last year, when she told police the elder Pirkle was being pummeled on his knees by his brother.
Setzer, citing a police report, said the two had fought - and that Jason Pirkle whipped out a knife - a week prior to the fight.
White said the fights illustrated "a pattern" between the siblings.
The judge also listened to impassioned statements from the victim's wife, Brittany Pirkle. She was arrested alongside her cousin days after the killing for allegedly threatening the witness who supported Jason Pirkle's self-defense story.
She agreed with prosecutors in that her husband's killer should serve 15 years.
"Not only did I lose my best friend," Brittany Pirkle said. "My son lost his father."