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Cameron Herrin: Social media 'fans' defend man charged with vehicular homicide

Cameron Herrin reacts to his sentencing
Image: Cameron Herrin reacts to his sentencing in April 2021 | Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo

Whether or not you’ve heard of Cameron Herrin and his case will depend on one of two things. Those familiar with the story will likely either be from Florida and have seen the story on local news or have come across Herrin on TikTok.

What happened was tragic and the sentencing was surprising. The public reaction, however, was nothing short of fascinating and gives a very interesting insight into modern culture and its approach to crime and celebrity.

The crime

In May 2018, the then-18-year-old Cameron Herrin was driving parallel to a sidewalk on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa Bay, Florida. At more than four miles long the sidewalk is believed to be the longest in the entire world and was generally considered to be a safe area for pedestrians.

Herrin was driving north on Bayshore at a ridiculous speed. He was in a Ford Mustang GT, drag racing with a friend, 17-year-old John Barrineau, who was behind the wheel of a Nissan Altima. Herrin’s Mustang struck 21-year-old Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt and her 21-month-old daughter Lilia. Jessica had begun crossing the road safely and legally, but Herrin failed to see her and couldn’t reduce his speed in time. Despite hitting the brakes, he hit the young mum and her child at over 100mph.

Jessica died instantly and Lilia passed away from her injuries the next day in hospital.

Herrin was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide, racing on a highway and reckless driving resulting in serious bodily injury or death. The charges were unsurprising. The sentencing, on the other hand, shocked everyone who heard about it.

The sentence

Barrineau’s defence team decided to take a plea bargain and he was sentenced to six years. Although it was Herrin’s Mustang that killed Jessica and Lilia, a similar sentence was expected to be passed down, especially given Cameron’s young age and lack of real criminal history. That said, he had been clocked speeding at 162 mph just days before the incident.

Herrin decided not to take the plea deal put his way; his team deemed it too poor an offer. Instead, it was decided that he should plead guilty and let the judge decide his fate. As it turned out, Cameron Herrin’s judge decided that his fate should be a very long stretch in prison.

In April 2020, the teenager was sent down for a full 24 years. Despite state guidelines suggesting 18.5 years and many people believing less might be dished out. Herrin will be in his mid-40s when he finally leaves the Graceville Correctional Facility in Jackson County.

State Attorney Andrew Warren, who argued for Herrin being found guilty, was even shocked at the length of the jail term. ‘It’s no secret that I was surprised by the judge’s sentence because he went above the statutory guidelines," he said in a statement. "But, at the end of the day, my job as state attorney was to hold the defendants accountable, to fight for the victims’ family, and to deliver the justice that Jessica and Lillia deserved, and that’s exactly what we did.’

The online outcry

Herrin and his family were shocked. Soon enough, so too were an ever-expanding group of obsessive online supporters. Almost all, it appears, seem drawn to him because of his boyish good looks.

Since his conviction, fan accounts have sprouted up claiming Herrin deserves a second chance. Some thought he was ‘too cute’ to be imprisoned for so long. Before the platform cancelled Herrin's TikTok account, it had over two million followers. There were no videos even posted on the channel.

TikTok videos about Herrin have received billions of views on the platform, while videos with the hashtag '#justiceforcameron' have received tens of millions of views. Herrin is often shown in court, with film and stills of him crying. They catch his shocked expression when he is sentenced, as well as a time he removes his mask to drink some water. Viewers are seemingly in agreement that his baby blue eyes and chiselled features are worth becoming somewhat obsessed with.

The appeal

In November 2021, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Nash denied Herrin's defence attorney's request to reduce his sentence. In his request for a new jail term, John Fitzgibbons stated that State Attorney Warren later told him that the 24-year term was far too long and that a sentence of between 10-12 years would have sufficed.

Fitzgibbons also detailed a series of attempts he made to reach an agreement with the state prior to Herrin's guilty plea, including proposals to cap the sentence at 10 years, 15 years and 18 years, all of which were refused by the state.

Judge Nash was unsympathetic and declared that Cameron Herrin must serve the full 24 years in prison.

The precedent

Of course, this kind of online ‘stanning’ is very much a new phenomenon. In fact, Cameron Herrin’s case may be the only such example of its kind. That said, we have seen similar fandoms arise before. Handsome criminals have always found fans.

The case of Jeremy Meeks springs to mind. In 2014, the dishy former Crips gang member was arrested on firearms charges by police in Stockton, California, during something called Operation Ceasefire. Within hours of Meeks’ mugshot being posted online by authorities, the image had gone viral. The quite startlingly attractive 30-year-old soon inspired the hashtag '#feloncrushfriday' to trend on social media. Soon enough he was a meme and even able to turn his life of petty crime around and become a sought-after fashion model.

Before the internet age, the world had seen truly terrible criminals, even unrepentant serial killers, attracting fans. Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez are, perhaps, the two best examples of this. There may be a certain dark appeal to these unknowable, yet evil men. But to fantasise and be fanatical about them is dangerous and runs the very real risk of glamourising their heinous acts, trivialising their atrocious crimes and exploiting their victims.