‘Excessively harsh.’ Bayshore driver cites Warren’s words in bid for new sentence

Former State Attorney Andrew Warren expressed dissatisfaction with Cameron Herrin’s 24-year sentence, a new court filing alleges.
Cameron Herrin reacts the moment he hears his sentence — 24 years in prison — at the conclusion of his sentencing hearing on April 8, 2021, at the Hillsborough County Edgecomb Courthouse before 13th Judicial Circuit Court judge Christopher Nash in downtown Tampa.
Cameron Herrin reacts the moment he hears his sentence — 24 years in prison — at the conclusion of his sentencing hearing on April 8, 2021, at the Hillsborough County Edgecomb Courthouse before 13th Judicial Circuit Court judge Christopher Nash in downtown Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Aug. 16, 2022|Updated Aug. 16, 2022

TAMPA — A day after a judge sentenced Cameron Herrin to 24 years in state prison for causing a collision that killed a mother and daughter on Bayshore Boulevard, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren left a voicemail for Herrin’s attorney.

“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.”

The voicemail and subsequent conversations Warren had with the defense attorney are the focus of a new effort to try to secure a reduced sentence for Herrin.

Herrin’s lawyer, John Fitzgibbons, filed a court paper Tuesday in which he says Warren expressed dissatisfaction with the penalty a judge imposed.

In a phone call the Monday after Herrin was sentenced, Warren told Fitzgibbons that it was a “terrible sentencing,” and that he thought the 24-year term was “crazy” and “egregiously high,” according to the motion. Warren said he thought a 10-to-12-year sentence would have been appropriate and specified that 10 years would have been OK.

“It is troublesome that at sentencing the court never heard these views,” Fitzgibbons wrote. He argues that as the state attorney, Warren had a responsibility to be a “minister of justice.” The judge should have been able to consider Warren’s actual view of the case, he wrote.

Warren could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday. The conversations cited in the motion occurred long before Warren’s recent ouster from office.

Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Warren from office Aug. 4, accusing him of neglecting his duty as state attorney by refusing to enforce certain state laws. The governor appointed Hillsborough County Judge Susan Lopez, a former longtime prosecutor in Tampa, to replace him.

Warren has vowed to fight his removal.

Related: Florida lawmakers could defy DeSantis in Andrew Warren case. They likely won’t.

In Herrin’s case, an appeals court issued a ruling June 21 that upheld his sentence. State court rules allow a defense attorney to file a request for a new sentence within 60 days of such a ruling, which made the deadline later this week.

Herrin, now 22, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide charges for his role in causing the May 23, 2018, collision that killed Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt and her 21-month-old daughter, Lillia. The mother was pushing her daughter in a stroller when she stepped out to cross the traffic lanes on the busy roadway.

Herrin, then 18, was driving north on Bayshore in a Ford Mustang that his parents had given him as a high school graduation gift. He rode alongside John Barrineau, 17, who drove a Nissan Altima. Witnesses said the pair appeared to be racing.

Police determined the Mustang was moving at 102 mph shortly before it hit the mother and daughter. Both were killed.

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The tragedy generated widespread public interest, having occurred along a popular stretch of road. Bayshore, with its 4-mile sidewalk and balustrade hugging Hillsborough Bay on one side, and million-dollar homes and high-rises on the other, is recognized as a Tampa icon.

The case was among the most high-profile of Warren’s time as State Attorney.

His office negotiated a plea agreement with Barrineau, who accepted 6 years in prison.

But the state made no agreement with Herrin.

The new motion recounts attempts Fitzgibbons made to negotiate a deal. He first sought 10 years in prison. The state declined. He then asked for 15 years, the motion states. But the state also declined. He then asked for 18.5 years, which was what state guidelines suggested, but that, too, was declined.

Herrin entered an open guilty plea, leaving his sentence for a judge to decide.

Judge Christopher Nash presided over an emotional, daylong sentencing hearing in April 2021, which featured testimony from Herrin’s friends and family, and the Reisinger and Raubenolt families.

Warren attended the hearing.

When Warren later expressed dissatisfaction with the penalty, Fitzgibbons asked if Warren would join an effort to secure a reduced sentence. Warren ultimately declined, according to the motion.

Fitzgibbons told Warren he would subpoena Warren to testify about his true opinion of the sentence, the motion states. Warren said he didn’t think his opinions were relevant. Fitzgibbons said that as the chief law enforcement officer for Hillsborough County, his opinions were “very relevant.”

Herrin is incarcerated at Graceville Correctional Facility in the Florida Panhandle, near the Alabama state line. The motion gives a snippet of what his life is like now. It states that he has taken limited college courses, lives in a faith-based prison unit and works in the prison library. While he is described as a “model inmate,” he “is having a very difficult time in prison.”

Related: Cameron Herrin went to prison for a Tampa crash. Were the tweets that followed real?

“He is not asking to be set free,” Fitzgibbons wrote. “He is simply asking for a second chance so that he can have some semblance of a life when he eventually is released which includes obtaining a meaningful job and being a responsible citizen.”

Reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon, John Reisinger, Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt’s uncle, said: “All I can say is Andrew Warren treated my family well and upheld the rights of victims’ families and should be praised for that.”

Times Staff Writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report.