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Teen accused of Freedom High bomb plot sentenced to 15 years

TAMPA — Circuit Judge Kimberly Fernandez saw two sides to the young man before her in court Wednesday.

One, a confused teenager, who tearfully begged for a second chance. Someone who had not actually hurt anyone, who asked the judge not to make him the "poster child for something evil."

The other, an 18-year-old with a "severe level of disturbance and pervasive anger," according to Fernandez. Someone who had plotted a massacre at Freedom High School and was a danger to the community.

The judge wanted to strike a balance between the boy before her and the risks he posed.

She sentenced Jared Cano to 15 years in prison.

Fernandez said it was one of the most difficult rulings she has had to make.

Cano looked up at the ceiling and cried. His 16-year-old sister screamed and sobbed.

Cano's grandfather shook his head.

"He's not going to be the same person in 15 years," Michael Butler said outside the courtroom. "You can kiss him off."

Cano's private attorney, family and rabbi had asked the judge to send Cano to a juvenile treatment program.

He was 16 when police arrested him and accused him of planning to bomb Freedom's cafeteria and shoot others at the New Tampa school. The Department of Juvenile Justice could hold him until he turns 22.

Defense attorney Norman Cannella Sr. explained that Cano did not have all the necessary materials to make a bomb. It was just fantasy, Cannella said.

A psychologist testified that Cano's threats were likely bravado because, though he had a history of making threats, Cano never was violent. Psychologist Richard Carpenter suggested a mental health treatment program.

A psychiatrist appointed by the court earlier had recommended a "long term, secure treatment program."

Judge Fernandez said she understood Cano has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which might explain some of his impulsivity.

"What is troubling is when you have that impulsivity and you combine it with anger and hostility," she said, "it cooks up a recipe, in my mind, for a very dangerous individual."

State law mandates that an adult must serve 85 percent of his sentence. Because Cano has already been in jail for 15 months, he could get out in 11 1/2 years.

People who have killed others — defendants in DUI manslaughter cases — have gotten significantly less prison time.

The Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office had asked for 25 years.

Cano has 30 days to appeal the sentence.

Police arrested Cano on Aug. 16, 2011, and confiscated from his bedroom a journal, bombmaking materials and cell phone videos in which he describes a plot to bomb Freedom in April 2012 and shoot "any survivors," including two assistant principals.

The state charged him as an adult, and in October, he pleaded no contest to five counts:

• Threatening to discharge a destructive device.

• Attempting to make, possess, throw, place, project or discharge a destructive device with intent to harm.

• Several drug charges related to the marijuana plant and pipes police found in his room.

Cano faced up to 37 years in prison if the judge had given him the maximum time for each charge.

At the beginning of the sentencing hearing, Assistant State Attorney John Terry played a 13-minute video of several of Cano's cell phone recordings, which he made shortly before he was arrested.

Prosecutors had previously released them as public record. It was not the first time Cano had heard them, either.

As the judge watched a television screen, Cano sat on a wood bench and bent over so he could cover his ears with his hands, though his wrists were shackled.

His sister cringed as Cano could be heard describing his plans down to the minute.

"The bombs blow at 7:26," he said. "Then I'm going to advance on the courtyard."

Later, his sister, Allie Cano, testified.

"That's not my brother," she said.

Cano's mother, sister and maternal grandparents spoke of a bright, though immature, boy who suffered a scary childhood.

Cano had grown up afraid of his father, who they said was emotionally and physically abusive. He was also scarred by the fact his mother left for eight months to get treatment for herself when he was 9.

"Jared has such a loving heart, and he's such a bright young man," said his mother, Michelle Cano. "He's gotten his GED since he's been in jail. . . . He's taught himself Spanish. He wants to go to college.

"I know with the proper treatment he can get help, so he can be a normal, productive member of society."

Cano spoke in court, too.

He said in high school, things started falling apart. He was expelled from Freedom in March 2010 when he was arrested for stealing a firearm from a friend's apartment.

He was kicked out of another school after he was caught selling marijuana, he said, and he was expelled from a third school in December 2010.

Cano says he started thinking, "I'm just a piece of crap. I can't do anything right."

He became depressed. He remembers wanting to die.

"I was just so angry, I started blaming everybody else," he said.

Violent images filled his mind. When he closed his eyes, he saw destruction.

It would not stop, he said.

"I don't really know how it all came to be," he said in court. "It just ended up like this."

He said the day he was arrested was the happiest of his life.

"It gave me a chance to look back," he said. "I can still get a job, I can still go back to school."

He asked the judge to give him a chance.

"Don't make me the poster child for something evil," he said. "Let me be the poster child for something good."

But as the judge started to speak, it quickly became apparent that she was not going to pass down a light sentence.

Cano started tearing up. A bailiff braced his back. Cano's sister and mother held each other.

Michael Butler said he did not know what to expect for his grandson.

Just not this.

He is afraid of what Cano could face in prison. Butler's wife, Judy Butler, said she does not expect Cano will get the mental health therapy he needs.

"He needs mental health counseling now," she said, "while he's still developing."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Teen accused of Freedom High bomb plot sentenced to 15 years 12/05/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 5:55pm]
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