This article represents the opinion of the editorial board of the Tampa Bay Times.
No one doubts Cameron Herrin should pay for killing Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt and her 21-month-old daughter, Lillia, after they crashed on Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard in 2018. But his 24-year prison sentence is excessive, although disproportionate to the six-year-old friend he was running with that day was given for his role in the tragedy. The 2nd District Court of Appeals should bring some fairness to this case or send it back to the trial court for reconsideration.
The accident happened on May 23, 2018. Herrin, then 18, was driving a Ford Mustang while his friend John Barrineau, then 17, was driving a Nissan Altima as they traveled north on Bayshore. Witnesses described a race as the two men moved in and out of traffic lanes past slower cars. The young mother from Ohio was visiting relatives in Tampa and was out for a walk along the iconic boulevard, where a mile-long sidewalk passes by the bay and close to traffic lanes. As she pushed her daughter in a stroller, Reisinger-Raubenolt got out to cross the roadway. The Mustang’s internal computer recorded its speed just before the crash as 102 mph.
There is no quibbling here: Herrin must be held responsible for this terrible loss of life. But the 24-year sentence that Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Christopher Nash imposed last year is irrelevant. Herrin and Barrineau have both been charged with homicide while driving a vehicle. Barrineau then brokered a plea deal that carried a six-year prison sentence. Herrin pleaded guilty, but left his sentence up to a judge. So much for that.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeals questioned attorneys for Herrin and the state on whether Nash abused his discretion in enforcing the heavy sentence. While state sentencing guidelines suggested 18 years in prison, judges have wide discretion to consider a range of factors. This is how it should be. Each case is different. But these two defendants were involved in the same drama. As Herrin’s car hit the victims, it took two drivers in two cars that day to race along Bayshore. Their actions in the moments leading up to the catastrophe certainly do not justify a quadruple disparity in sentences.
Prosecutors, the families of the victims and even the general public have rightly said that this case demands accountability. But this standard also applies to the fate of the criminal justice system. It is not enough to dismiss this disparity as a “judgment” as if six, 12 or 18 more years were just petals to be peeled off in the life of a young person. The appeals court should align Herrin’s sentence or order the trial court to reconsider its fairness.
Editorials are the corporate voice of the Tampa Bay Times. Members of the Editorial Board are Editorial Editor Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and President Paul Tash. To follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinionated news.