Defendants get 15-year prison sentences for stop-sign killings
Judge: 'There are no winners in this case'
June 20, 1997
TAMPA, Florida (CNN) -- Three defendants were sentenced to 15 years each in state prison Friday for uprooting a stop sign at an intersection where three teen-agers were killed in a crash a few hours later.
Nissa Baillie, 21, Thomas Miller, 20, and Christopher Cole, 20, each faced 27 to 46 years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter in the incident. It is believed to be the first U.S. case in which the removal of a traffic sign has led to a manslaughter conviction.
Cole, Baillie and Miller were each sentenced to 30 years in state prison, with a suspended sentence after 15 years, and five years of probation Friday on four counts of manslaughter. Under Florida law, convicts must serve at least 85 percent of a sentence, meaning at least 13 years in prison for the three.
"There are no winners in this case," said Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Bob Mitchum. As he sentenced Christopher Cole, 20, the first of the three to be sentenced, Mitchum said he did not believe the three defendants stole stop signs with the intent of causing the deaths of anyone else and said Cole had shown "some remorse."
"Some mercy should be shown to you," he told Cole. "To make you serve the entire 30 years, I think, would be a waste of your life." But, he added, a punishment appropriate to the crime must be imposed.
Defendants admit removing road signs
Kevin Farr, Brian Hernandez and Randall White, all 18, were killed on February 7, 1996, when their white Camaro breezed through an intersection and into the path of an 8 ton truck. The youths were out driving after a night of bowling. A stop sign was found lying on the roadside near the accident.
Cole said he, Baillie, and Miller stole as many as 19 signs along the rural roads of Hillsborough County, some 20 miles east of Tampa, the night before the accident. But Cole told jurors during last month's trial that he and his friends didn't touch the stop sign at the intersection where the three friends lost their lives.
Les Farr, the father of one of the victims, asked for the defendants to get the maximum penalty during testimony before the sentencing. "My son, along with two other individuals, as far as I'm concerned they received the maximum penalty, death, and it was caused by these people here," he said.
Farr also said he was upset with the way the defense handled the trial, accusing them of blaming everybody but the defendants. "I felt they personally attacked Kevin," he said. "They might as well have said it was my fault too, because I taught him how to drive."
However, Ann Hertle, the mother of victim Randall White, asked the judge for leniency, describing a phone call she received from Miller in which he denied removing the stop sign.
"I told him, I know honey. I knew you didn't. Because from the bottom of my heart, right from the beginning I believed that same thing."
Defense asks for leniency
Cole's attorney had argued that he should receive a lenient sentence, saying he was no threat to the community. "Will he ever steal a stop sign again?" said Cole's attorney. "I don't think so."
A defense attorney for Baillie, arguing for leniency in her sentence, said she had no prior history of criminal activity, held steady employment and was a regular churchgoer.
Thomas Miller was the only defendant to address the court directly during the sentencing. He said in a cracking voice that accusing him of showing no remorse in the case was "not a true statement."
"There has been many a night that I have sat up and cried, and not been able to go to sleep because of the fact that your son never returned home," he said to one of the victims' parents. "I can just imagine if one of my two real brothers never returned home, and what it would have done to me and my family."
Mitchum sentenced the trio after refusing to grant them a new trial earlier Friday. The three were arrested after they threw stolen stop signs into a river, police testified.
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