TAMPA — A state appeals court heard arguments Wednesday morning over the 24-year sentence Cameron Herrin received for his role in a 2018 traffic crash that killed a mother and daughter on Bayshore Boulevard.
In a 40-minute session, a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal questioned lawyers for Herrin’s defense and the state over whether a trial judge abused his discretion in applying the hefty sentence.
Part of the the defense argument centered on the difference between Herrin’s penalty and that of John Barrineau, a fellow teen driver who was also involved in the crash, but who negotiated a six-year sentence.
“I think it just boils down to the issue of culpability,” defense attorney John Fitzgibbons told the panel. “We just don’t see daylight between the two of them. This could not have happened without the two of them in concert.”
Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Hurley argued that the trial court judge properly considered all the factors required by law in crafting the sentence.
“This was a judgment call,” Hurley said. “As long as the court does its weighing and examines the record in totality. And yes, there were mitigating circumstances. There was also aggravating circumstances. ... The weighing process is a judgment call.”
Herrin pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide charges in the May 23, 2018, deaths of Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt and her 21-month-old daughter, Lillia.
The young mother from Ohio was visiting relatives in Tampa that day and had gone out for a walk along the iconic boulevard, where a miles-long sidewalk runs parallel to traffic lanes that straddle Hillsborough Bay. As she pushed her daughter in a stroller, Reisinger-Raubenolt stepped out to cross the roadway.
Herrin, then 18, was at that moment behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang, a graduation gift he’d just received from his parents. Barrineau drove alongside him in a Nissan Altima. Witnesses said the pair appeared to be racing, weaving in and out of travel lanes as they headed north from Gandy Boulevard.
Witnesses said the Nissan was slightly ahead of the Mustang but veered away just as Reisinger-Raubenolt stepped into the roadway. The Mustang then struck the mother and daughter.
Herrin and Barrineau were both charged with vehicular homicide. Barrineau later negotiated a plea agreement which carried a six-year prison sentence. Herrin chose to plead guilty, but left his sentence to a judge’s discretion.
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State sentencing guidelines suggested a minimum penalty of 18 years in prison. The maximum was 30 years. The defense asked to depart from the guidelines, to make Herrin’s sentence closer to what Barrineau received.
In an emotional, daylong hearing last spring, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Nash heard from Herrin’s family and friends, who attested to his good character, the remorse he exhibited for his role in the crash and the devastating impact to his family. The judge also heard from the Reisinger and Raubenolt families, who detailed the anguish of their loss.
While finding that there were justifiable reasons for a lesser sentence, Nash noted the harm the crime caused to the victims’ family and imposed 24 years in prison.
The case has continued to generate public interest, including an online campaign driven in part by social media bots, which favors leniency for Herrin.
Speaking before the appeals court Wednesday, Fitzgibbons emphasized the short distance between the two cars at the time of the collision. But for a second or two, it could have been the Nissan that struck the pair.
“I just do not see the difference in culpability,” he said.
The court did not make any ruling Wednesday. Appellate courts typically take weeks, if not months, to decide a case.