tampabay.com

Judge: Trial will make no one happy

By JOHN BARRY
Published May 3, 2007


TAMPA  

An Aug. 21 trial has been set for Jessica Rasdall, a University of South Florida freshman who killed her childhood friend Laura Gorman, an Eckerd College freshman, while driving drunk last year.

"When this is over, everybody is going leave here very, very angry, " Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Timothy Peters told the parents of both girls Tuesday. Rasdall's parents have begged for leniency; Gorman's parents have demanded a 15-year prison sentence.

"No escape, " an April 8 Times story about the girls, both 18 at the time of the Feb. 25, 2006, accident, prompted responses from hundreds of readers who debated whether prison or leniency best served justice. Since the crash, Rasdall has spoken to more than 2, 000 area students at anti-DUI rallies, confessing to driving drunk and expressing remorse.

Rasdall's attorney, Tim Hessinger, said he will negotiate directly with State Attorney Bernie McCabe for a plea deal. Under state guidelines for driving under the influence manslaughter, Rasdall faces 10 to 15 years in prison. Hessinger wants Rasdall declared a "youthful offender, " which would make her eligible for a reduced sentence ranging from probation to six years in prison.

The judge said he doesn't expect the lawyers to reach an agreement. "I don't see any common ground anywhere, " he said. "Ultimately, it will come down to me. I'll have to made the hard choice."

John Barry can be reached at 727 892-2258 or jbarry@sptimes.com.