Sunday, April 22, 2018
News Roundup

Jared Cano's attorney discusses options after judge issues 15-year prison sentence

TAMPA — Jared Cano still has a shot at a second chance.

The 18-year-old accused of planning a massacre at Freedom High School was sentenced to 15 years in prison Wednesday for a plot assembled when he was 16.

Cano's attorney had asked for juvenile sanctions and rehabilitation in a mental health treatment program. Circuit Judge Kimberly Fernandez decided on an adult sentence.

She said it was a difficult case because she faced two choices: Either Cano was deadly serious and many people could have been hurt, or he was a confused boy making empty threats.

Cano's private attorney, Norman Cannella Sr., said Thursday he is considering filing a motion for mitigation, in which the judge can lighten the sentence.

"Let her reconsider the sentence and sentence him more rationally, for God's sake," Cannella said. "I think most people were really surprised at the harshness of that sentence."

Often when considering such a motion, a judge will want to see additional information that was not previously addressed in court, several criminal defense attorneys told the Tampa Bay Times.

"Like a psychiatric report, or a polygraph," said Clearwater attorney Denis deVlaming.

Cannella can also file an appeal in the 2nd District Court of Appeal. The attorney said he plans to dispute the judge's decision not to dismiss Cano's most serious charges despite the fact that, according to the attorney, Cano did not threaten anybody.

Authorities charged Cano with threatening to discharge a destructive device, as well as attempting to make, possess, throw, place, project or discharge a destructive device with intent to harm.

However, Cano's plans were kept hidden in his room. The only other person who knew was a friend, who called police. The plot described in Cano's journal and on cellphone videos was not publicized until after Cano's arrest.

Stetson University College of Law professor Bruce Jacob said the definition of "threat" makes the case murky, especially with regard to the first charge.

"(Cano) disclosed his plans to a friend, but is that a 'threat'?" Jacob asked. "Maybe his lawyer has a chance to win on appeal on that issue."

While some criticized the sentence, most agreed the judge's task was not easy.

If Cano's plans were serious, then the judge's sentence seems reasonable, deVlaming said. If Cano's plans were simply fantasy, "then I think the sentence was excessive," the attorney countered.

He said it all comes down to one question: Do you think Cano really would have done it?

"In these shooting cases, like Columbine, everyone wants to know why something wasn't done to prevent it," said Tampa criminal defense attorney Jeff Paulk. "It's hard to tell if someone is charged before a potential action."

All the judge can go with is the evidence presented, Paulk said.

Paulk represented Austin Cook, a Tampa teen accused of threatening to kill students at Leto High School in 2010. Cook eventually pleaded guilty to threatening to discharge a destructive device, and he was sentenced to two years of community control and eight years of probation.

A much lighter sentence, but much different evidence.

Cano's journal and 13-minutes of cellphone videos describe plans that seem very real, despite the fact that he did not have all the materials needed to make a bomb.

Prosecutors did not have anything like that in Cook's case.

Stetson Law professor Jacob brought up another issue: Cano was charged as an adult for something he was accused of when he was 16. Though transfers to the adult system are common in Florida, it is much more rare nationwide, Jacob said.

"The juvenile mind is not fully formed," Jacob said. "They're not nearly as responsible for their actions as they are in their 20s. Do you really want to put a boy in jail for 15 years when his mind is not really fully formed?"

Times staff writer Stephanie Bolling contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

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