TAMPA — A mother pleaded Tuesday with Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Manuel Lopez to take back the life sentences he gave her 21-year-old son in May. Her son was convicted of murder, but never fired a shot, she said. A maximum sentence wasn't just. It wouldn't bring back the victim. Why ruin another life because one was taken?
Clearly moved by the mother's pleas for her imprisoned son, Lopez sought to explain to her what is justice and what isn't, and why, under the law, the lives of a Boy Scout and a drug dealer are equally valued.
The exchange occurred when Assistant Public Defender Maura Doherty asked Lopez to reconsider the concurrent life sentences he gave Michael Crossno on May 20 after Crossno pleaded guilty to second-degree felony murder and armed burglary of a building with assault or battery. He is now serving his sentences at the Taylor Correctional Institution in Perry.
The maximum sentences had been a surprise to the victim's family. They had hoped for life terms, but said they had been warned by prosecutors that Crossno might be sentenced to 30 years or less.
Crossno had gone to the Brandon apartment of Michael Daniel, 19, on April 1, 2010, with a juvenile accomplice after learning that Daniel had stashes of marijuana and cash there. When Daniel opened the door, Crossno stuck a gun in Daniel's face and pushed his way inside. The juvenile fled.
At the same time, a friend of Daniel's in the apartment took aim at Crossno with a shotgun. When the friend fired, the shotgun blasts struck both men, wounding Crossno, but killing Daniel.
Defense attorney Doherty asked the judge to consider that it was Daniel's stash of marijuana and cash that had lured Crossno to the apartment.
"The argument is that the life of a drug dealer is not as worthy as the life of a Boy Scout," Lopez replied. "I'm not going down that path.
"Motion is denied."
At that point, Daniel's family audibly gasped in relief. They immediately left the court.
But Crossno's mother asked to speak. "His gun was unloaded," she told Lopez. "My son would never hurt another human being."
Barbara Crossno began to cry. The judge spoke gently. "I want you to know I feel for what you're going through, your immeasurable pain," he said.
"One life is gone, another is ruined. Two families' lives have been irrevocably changed. But it doesn't change my decision. He took a life."
Barbara Crossno said she, too, felt for the victim's family. "I understand they've lost a son," she said. "Now I've lost my son. But I don't understand how that's going to bring justice for the family."
His sentences were harsh, the judge said, but justice was served.
"I understand you love your son," he said. "A human being is dead."
John Barry can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3383.