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Driver from fatal DUI has sentence cut

Harold Vann is sentenced to 16 years in prison after a Florida Supreme Court ruling.

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


TAMPA -- A Lutz man accused in a highly emotional DUI case that left one girl dead and another crippled had his sentence reduced by about eight years Tuesday.

photo
[Times photo: Tony Lopez]
Harold Vann, left, listens to his attorney, Michael Giordano, during Tuesday's re-sentencing hearing before Judge J. Rogers Padgett.
Harold Vann, 53, was originally sentenced to 241/2 years in prison after his conviction in 1998 for DUI-manslaughter and DUI with serious bodily injury.

The sentencing guidelines, however, were part of an unconstitutional set of laws enacted by the state Legislature in 1995, the Florida Supreme Court recently ruled.

The ruling led to Vann's resentencing Tuesday by Hillsborough Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett, who gave Vann 16 years in prison, the high end of the 1994 guidelines.

The girls' parents, Tom Jackson, a writer with the Tampa Tribune, and Debbie Jackson, did not want to comment Tuesday.

"I know the family would have wished it was higher," prosecutor Paul D. Johnson said. "This was a case with horrifying consequences."

In February 1997, after the Jacksons moved to the suburbs in New Tampa for a safe place to raise their children, Mrs. Jackson was headed to their home in the Hunter's Green subdivision. At the entrance, she turned at the traffic light into the path of Vann's pickup truck. Prosecutors said Vann, an auto body shop owner, blew through the red light.

The Jacksons' 11-year-old daughter, Katie, died. Their daughter Elizabeth, then 6, was left in a vegetative state. Vann's blood alcohol level was between 0.12 and 0.16 at the time of the wreck, according to the prosecution. The law presumes a person to be impaired at 0.08 or above.

A jury convicted Vann after a trial that Johnson said included some of the most highly emotional testimony he has ever experienced. Vann's appeal was denied two months ago, which appeared to have put an end to the case.

Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court finalized a ruling that the Crime Control Act of 1995, which enhanced penalties for a wide range of felonies, violated the sacrosanct single-subject rule of the Florida Constitution, which says all laws must embrace just one subject.

The 1995 law contained provisions for several unrelated subjects, including civil remedies for victims of domestic violence and criminal sentencing guidelines, the court ruled. The Supreme Court said those sentenced under the law must now be resentenced under 1994 guidelines, with generally less severe penalties.

Vann was allowed to petition for a sentence reduction since his crimes occurred between Oct. 1, 1995 and May 24, 1997, the window of time set out by the court. State Department of Corrections figures show that the ruling could affect 1,191 inmates from Pinellas-Pasco and 1,375 from Hillsborough. Johnson said the Hillsborough office is receiving about 20 motions for sentence reductions a day.

"This is something our office will be dealing with for several months," he said. "Generally speaking, we're disappointed that some of these defendants cannot be sentenced as stringently as the current laws allow."

The same act introduced a measure requiring prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. Now that Vann's sentence stems from the 1994 guidelines, he will not face that requirement, although it is unclear how that might reduce his 16-year sentence.

Vann's lawyer, Michael Giordano, said his client was pleased about the sentence reduction, but remains so upset about what happened to the two girls that he has trouble talking about the case.

"People saw him as cold and uncaring," Giordano said. "But he is always near the brink of breaking down when he's asked about the case. The hard exterior is just the way he copes with it."

-- Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or

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