“Everyone makes mistakes,” right? It’s a common, popular saying that everyone will surely hear at least once in their lifetimes.
However, there are mistakes that are common and harmless, and there are mistakes, as true-crime stories show us again and again, you won’t ever be able to take back because of the sheer pain and trauma they inflict on others, to the point where it changes people’s lives in forever irredeemable ways.
Cameron Herrin’s “mistake” falls into the latter category. Although he was young when he made his so-called “mistake” — 18 years old to be exact — there was no way Harris was not aware that his actions were risky, even criminal, and that they could result in grave bodily injury to someone, or, as it tragically happened, death.
As a result of Herrin’s and his friend, John Barrineau’s, reckless actions, a young mother and her baby daughter’s lives were cruelly cut short. So, what did Herrin do exactly, and what has happened to the now 23-year-old?
What was Cameron Herrin’s crime?
Back in May 2018, Cameron Herrin was driving his brand-new Ford Mustang — a gift from his parents for graduating high school — on Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard, in the state of Florida. Bayshore is a popular spot for pedestrians, with what is considered the longest continuous sidewalk not only in the U.S. but in the world.
But Herrin was not driving as any reasonable, cautious citizen would. With his older brother Tristan in the passenger seat beside him, Herrin was drag racing against his friend, 17-year-old John Barrineau. Herrin was going at over 100mph, in a zone that, at the time, had a speed limit of 45mph – subsequently reduced to 35mph. He did not slam the brakes in time to stop his car and avoid barreling into 24-year-old Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt who was pushing a stroller carrying her 21-month-old daughter Lilia.
In a last-ditch effort, Reisinger, who’d been lawfully crossing the road, attempted to push her child out of the way but was unable to in time. Reisinger died instantly, while her daughter succumbed to her injuries the following day.
Herrin was charged with one count of unlawful racing and two counts of vehicular homicide.
What was Herrin’s sentence?
As an aggravating factor, it became known that — days before the fatal crash — Cameron Herrin had been going 162mph on Interstate 75. In fact, he had a history of going over 70mph on Tampa roads. This proved the crash was no one-time mistake, but the result of a thoughtless and irresponsible mindset.
The two accused in this case took separate legal approaches. A week prior to the date the trial was set to begin, John Barrineau decided to take a plea deal and was sentenced to 6 years in prison and 15 years of probation upon release. Herrin’s older brother, Tristan, was lucky enough to have all charges against him dropped, probably because he was the only passenger without an active role in this case.
For multiple reasons, the trial kept being met with delays which made the process all the more agonizing for Reisinger’s bereaved family. Both her father – Bob Reisinger, and husband – David Raubenolt, pled with the court to stop perpetuating the legal proceedings and allow them to finally get the resolution they deserved. The grieving widower told the court in late 2019: “I’ve suffered horrifically, every moment. It’s nearly impossible to put into words the agony of this legal process.”
Herrin was not offered a plea deal. Instead, he pled guilty in 2020 to the charges and let the judge decide his fate. The state was advocating for an 18-year prison sentence, while the maximum that Herrin could receive was 30 years. Naturally, the family of the victims was hoping for the whole 30 years for their loved ones’ killer.
In April 2021, Herrin did not get 30 years, nor did he get 18 the state was aiming for, or the 10 to 12 his defense attorney wanted. Instead, three years after the crash, the judge sentenced the young adult to a total of 24 years behind bars. While the judge thought 30 years was too harsh for a young man with a clean criminal record, he nevertheless believed Herrin was responsible for his actions and should be sentenced accordingly – a sentence Herrin was quick to file an appeal for.
A sentence upheld
The main argument posed by John Fitzgibbons, Herrin’s lawyer, in the appeal hearing, hinged on comments made by State Attorney Andrew Warren when he “criticized the very sentence his office had requested just one day earlier.” Fitzgibbons went as far as to take jabs at the prosecutor’s ethical character, saying “Warren didn’t have the moral fiber to tell the court what he really thought when he and his office asked for this very heavy sentence.” In the wake of this open criticism, Warren issued a statement in which he defended his position as a State attorney who has managed to give justice to the victim’s family as is his job’s mission. (via Tampa Bay Times)
In the end, the appeal to reduce the sentence was denied in 2022, as shown in this Court Order. The 24-year sentence was upheld, and, with no more potential legal remedies left, Herrin is currently serving it at the Graceville Correctional Facility in Graceville, Jackson County, Florida.
Hybristophilia: Attractiveness bias at its finest
From time to time, there comes a tsunami of people who seemingly believe that being handsome or “cute” should be some sort of deterrent to harsh sentences. We’ve seen it happen with serial killers, like the “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez; we’ve seen it happen with the family annihilator Chris Watts, and it certainly also happened in Cameron Herrin’s case.
Although Herrin’s crime was certainly less intentional than the two murderers named above, it nevertheless caused the brutal deaths of a young mother and her toddler, something a great portion of people on TikTok and other social media — mainly women — seem to purposefully ignore. “They just destroyed his life and future 😭” writes a TikTok user under a video lamenting Herrin’s “wasted” life.
In August 2021, YouTuber Phillip DeFranco covered this case, going into detail about the massive number of followers and fans that have supported Herrin through all of this. DeFranco said: “Even though he has no videos to view, he has 2 million followers [on TikTok]. Videos with the #cameronherrin have been viewed 1.8 billion times, and the #justiceforcameron being viewed 26.3 million times.”
This kind of psychological phenomenon, wherein people become attracted to criminals, is called Hybristophilia — and in Herrin’s case — it was rampant. Here’s an example of the kind of videos Herrin’s fanbase makes about him:
There is no denying that Herrin may be conventionally attractive, but what do his criminal actions have to do with his looks? Nothing whatsoever. But, unfortunately, attractiveness bias is a real phenomenon, and it was plain to see it at play in Herrin’s case.
The only thing that makes Herrin’s case not fit all Hybristophilia parameters is that he is not an inherently evil killer as he did not rationally intend to murder anyone. On the other hand, the fact that he is not a cold-blooded killer at heart appears to have made all these netizens who support him all the more comfortable keeping up with their persisting affection in the form of fan posts and videos.
Two diverging opinions, only one legal conclusion
There are multiple Change.org petitions still up on the internet with the aim of having Herrin’s 24-year sentence reduced. A creator of one such petition wrote in 2021:
“Cameron had no intention of killing anyone. He is innocent. And the US government should understand that he doesn’t deserve 24 years in jail. He has his whole life ahead of him. He regrets his actions which was reflected through his emotions in the courtroom. Everyone makes a mistake. His seems to have faced a more greater consequence than others but one event in your life shouldn’t determine your future. We all make decisions we regret when we are young but that doesn’t mean we have to give up our whole lives to repent. Cameron is an intelligent, young adult who doesn’t deserve this injustice. You can help make a change to this young boy’s life. Cameron needs your help. So please help by signing this petition. You can make a huge impact in someone’s life without even knowing it. Your actions can help save lives.”
On the other side of the sympathy spectrum, DeFranco — who is a husband and father himself — finished covering the story with the following words:
“If you’re someone that is stanning Cameron, who’s ‘too pretty for prison,’ please get your head examined. He drove his car through a woman and her 21-month-old daughter. There is no sympathy coming from me. Or how about this, we get rid of the prison sentence, but we put’em in the middle of the street and put’em on the opposite end of the situation. We see how he holds up against a Mustang.”
While DeFranco’s suggestion might be too extreme, the question still stands: Would people still be as sympathetic toward Herrin had he had a less appealing physical appearance? That’s doubtful. Even the convict’s mother, Cheryl Herrin, has called out the extreme online following for having an “unhealthy obsession” with her son.
You may agree or disagree with the 24-year sentence, but if one’s disagreement hinges on the fact that Herrin is “too cute” to be in prison for two decades, they’ve got a very poor argument on their hands.
If nothing changes and the law remains undeterred in its course, Herrin will be over 40 years old when he finally gets to walk — hopefully not drive — the streets as a free man once again.