NEW PORT RICHEY — Vito Cito went to court Tuesday to be sentenced for a shooting he committed in 2007. Cito was 17 then. No one was hurt.
Still, under state gun laws, he faced 20 years in prison.
Cito's lawyer asked the judge for mercy, saying his client was born to crack-addicted parents who both beat him. One special punishment, according to the defense: Cito's father made him kneel on dog food cans for hours, forbidden from shifting to relieve his aching knees.
Cito claimed he sometimes rummaged through trash bins for food and slept on the porch when there were people in the house using drugs with his parents.
After listening to the horror stories, Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa called the parents up to answer for their son's life.
"Explain it," the judge told Mary Lollis, Cito's mother. "Explain why your son is here."
Lollis denied the beatings. She denied that her son ever had to scrounge for food.
"Why was he taken away from you then?" Siracusa asked her.
"I got into drugs," she said.
Marijuana, crack cocaine. She drank, too.
Cito's attorney, Scott Andringa, asked if her memory of her son's childhood might be clouded by that.
No, she said.
"He's had spankings, yes, but I never abused him," Lollis said.
Vito Cito Sr. was next.
"Please explain this life you've provided your son," the judge said.
"I never beat him," Cito Sr. said.
But he did tell of how, when he was released from prison in 1999, he promptly taught his 10-year-old son to drive.
Cito, now 21, was convicted in April of aggravated assault and discharging a weapon from a vehicle within 1,000 feet of a person. He was arguing with a friend and as he sped away in a Jeep, Cito turned back, pointed the revolver and fired.
Siracusa had a few options.
The state's gun laws called for a 20-year mandatory sentence. The judge could have sentenced Cito as a juvenile because the shooting happened when he was 17. Or he could have sentenced Cito as an adult, but with a departure from the guidelines because of his age. Both of those meant much less prison time.
Ultimately, Siracusa decided Cito's traumas in childhood didn't mitigate the crime. He sentenced Cito to 20 years in prison.
"It is unfortunate what you've been subjected to," the judge said, "but it doesn't excuse what you did. Your actions are your own."
Cito still faces trial on attempted murder charges for another shooting. Authorities say he shot at two men in a Port Richey Checkers drive-through, striking one in the neck. Both men recovered. It happened June 3, 2007 — the same day as the other shooting.
After he was arrested and bailed out of jail, Cito showed some signs of promise, maybe for the first time in his life. He went to live with his girlfriend and her mother, never stepping astray of the law. He worked 70 to 80 hours a week laying carpet and roofing, he said, even though he made little money because of his criminal record. He started a paralegal course that he hoped would lead to a career.
And his girlfriend is pregnant, due in a week.
Andringa, his attorney, tried to appeal to the judge on that notion.
"We're going to start the cycle over again," he said. "This child that's going to be born next week will have an absent father."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mmoorheadtimes.