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To each, justice differs

By JOHN BARRY
Published April 27, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Jim Damaske]
Jessica Rasdall confessed to killing her best friend, Laura Gorman, while driving home after a night of drinking in Ybor City's Club Skye. They were both 18 years old.

"No Escape," the April 8 story about a drunken driving manslaughter case against Jessica Rasdall, who killed her best friend Laura Gorman in a crash last year, prompted responses from hundreds of readers, many of them schoolmates or friends of the two girls. A couple of letters came from prisons.

Readers were asked: "What is justice?"

The girls were 18. They had been friends since kindergarten. Jessica was a freshman at the University of South Florida, Laura a freshman at Eckerd College. They drank at Club Skye in Ybor City until 3 a.m. one night in February 2006. They headed home with Jessica at the wheel.

Jessica has since confessed to driving drunk before thousands of students at anti-DUI rallies at bay area schools. Her parents have begged a Pinellas County judge for leniency. Laura's parents have demanded that the judge impose the 10- to 15-year prison term called for under Florida law. So far, Judge Timothy Peters has rejected leniency. He presides over another court hearing on Tuesday.

The responses from readers show they are no less torn over what constitutes justice.

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I am currently serving a four-year sentence for a violent crime which carried a life sentence. The judge gave me another chance in life. Why should Jessica Rasdall not have another chance in life?

Albert Richardson III, X45924 Taylor Correctional Work Camp Perry, FL

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Jessica will do whatever she has to do to NOT pay the price, including tears, community service, apologies, anything.

Why would community service stop her? Jail will stop her, at least temporarily. Let her . . . look at her life so far, and see what her future will be if she continues on the path she is on. And then, we have done what we can do for her. We've not enabled her, we've not pitied her, we've done the only thing we can do: 1. protect others from her and 2. give her an opportunity to change her life.

Marcia Haulsee, St. Petersburg

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As a 40-year civil trial attorney, I have seen every kind of DUI accident case imaginable. Listening to the families is heartbreaking.

There is a fine line between justice and vengeance. Forgiveness helps healing; retribution leaves a bitter taste. Many of us in our youth (including me) could have been in Jessica's situation. Mr. and Mrs. Gorman should look deep into their hearts and forgive her.

Wade Yeakle, St. Petersburg

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I've been shocked to see that some readers have formed the opinion that the Gorman victim family is hateful and vengeful. As the victim advocate on this case who has had numerous intimate conversations and visits with the Gorman family, I am going on record that this deeply grieving family is neither. Not in ANY way. Not at all. I deeply regret that some readers have formed this opinion from the article.

Will Jessica have to pay a price for choosing to commit a felony and killing someone? That will be up to the legal system, but Laura received a death sentence from Jessica's choice and nothing could be more devastating than that.

Jessica is a repeat offender and it could have been anyone in her path that was killed in any one of her drunken driving episodes. Let's not blame the victim whose voice has been forever silenced by her untimely and unnecessary death.

Cheryl Henrion, Senior Victim Advocate Mothers Against Drunk Driving Pinellas/Western Pasco Counties

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I speak as a sister who lost a sister due to a drunk driver. My sister was killed instantly, at age 21, on her way to work as a nurse. The driver was 18 and his father was a police officer in our small town. He was charged with driving left of center with no mention of a fatality. Talk about no justice at all. Lawsuits of all sorts were encouraged by others.

However, my parents taught our family and a community about forgiveness. I plead with the Gormans to let their tremendous loss bring some better good to the honor of their daughter.

Denise Tucker, Palm Harbor

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Why are the bars not being prosecuted for not "carding" the young girls and also for intoxicating them and allowing them to drive after drinking? Surely there are some legal restrictions, particularly as the girls were underage. There should be some punishment given to these idiots who exploit young people.

Jessica Gentry, Dunedin

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I lost my daughter last June 30. She, too, started her evening in Ybor City, at Club Prana. Sarah was only 17 but was still allowed in and was served at least five drinks. She and her 18-year-old friend got lost on the way home and ended up in Brandon. They had an accident but neither of them were hurt. A Hillsborough County deputy picked them up and let them leave with a 20-year-old boyfriend even though they knew Sarah was a minor. Sarah passed away late June 30. I know that had she NOT started her evening in Ybor City the events of her death would never have taken place.

Julie Rinaldi, Tampa Sarah's Mom

 

On the Web

The story

Read "No Escape ," about Jessica Rasdall at links.tampabay.com.

 

[Last modified April 27, 2007, 01:40:32]


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