TAMPA — Cameron Herrin’s 24-year prison sentence should remain untouched, state prosecutors say, despite comments from then-State Attorney Andrew Warren that the penalty was “excessively harsh.”
The office of Hillsborough State Attorney Susan Lopez filed a response Thursday to a defense attorney’s request to have a judge reduce Herrin’s sentence.
Herrin pleaded guilty to causing a 2018 Bayshore Boulevard traffic crash that killed Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt and her 21-month-old daughter, Lillia. Judge Christopher Nash imposed the sentence after an emotional, daylong hearing in April 2021.
Warren’s post-sentencing comments are of “zero value” to the judge’s decision, the prosecutors wrote.
“Instead of allowing (the) defendant to relitigate these issues and further victimize Jessica and Lillia’s family, this court should again decline” to reduce Herrin’s sentence, the paper states.
Thursday’s filing came three weeks after Nash ordered the state to respond to a court paper from Herrin’s attorney, John Fitzgibbons, which quoted a voicemail the lawyer received from Warren a day after the sentencing hearing.
“I tell ya, I was, uh, surprised and even disappointed by the sentence,” Warren said in the recording. “I thought it was excessively harsh, um, but just wanted to follow up with you when you get a chance.”
Fitzgibbons described subsequent conversations in which Warren told him the sentencing hearing was “terrible” and the penalty “crazy” and “egregiously high.” Warren told Fitzgibbons that a range of 10-12 years would have been appropriate, according to the defense paper.
But when Fitzgibbons asked if he would join an effort to ask the judge for a reduced sentence, Warren refused.
The comments contradict what Warren’s own prosecutor told the judge.
In his order for the state to respond, Nash attached a portion of the sentencing transcript. In it, the state’s lead prosecutor, Aaron Hubbard, asks for a sentence between 18 and 30 years.
Prosecutors on Thursday argued that Warren’s comments reflect his personal opinion and not the state’s position.
“While the voicemail and resulting conversations demonstrate Mr. Warren’s personal struggle with the facts and circumstances of this case and even some level of compassion for the Defendant,” the paper states, “Mr. Warren himself conceded ... that none of his opinions are relevant to sentencing and do not form a basis for (a reduced sentence).”
Fitzgibbons filed his own response Thursday to the state’s response. He noted that the state did not deny Warren made the statements about Herrin’s sentence. He asserted that Warren’s thoughts are relevant and argued that the judge should be able to consider his opinions.
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“Mr. Warren’s views have never been heard by the court,” Fitzgibbons wrote. “There appears to be no disagreement that the court can give whatever weight it wishes to Mr. Warren’s now undisputed views.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Warren from office Aug. 4, citing Warren’s policies against prosecuting certain low-level crimes and statements he’d signed pledging not to prosecute cases related to abortion and transgender health care. The governor appointed Lopez to replace him.
Warren sued DeSantis in a bid to get his job back. The matter remains pending in federal court, with arguments set to occur Monday.
In an Aug. 17 news conference about his lawsuit, Warren was asked about news of the voicemail and his views on the Herrin case.
“It’s no secret that I was surprised by the judge’s sentence because he went above the statutory guidelines,” Warren said. He did not elaborate.
DeSantis earlier this year appointed Hubbard, the prosecutor in the Herrin case, to be a Pinellas County judge.
Thursday’s court filing was signed by Christine Brown, a traffic homicide prosecutor, and Gary Weisman, the office’s chief of staff during Warren’s tenure, who has continued to serve in that role since Lopez’s appointment.
The prosecutors wrote that they would oppose any effort to subpoena Warren or Hubbard to testify. They asked the judge to dismiss Fitzgibbons’ request without holding a new hearing.