Louis Mevec, who left a loaded gun under a sofa, is sentenced to just under three years in prison. The Carolines continue to mourn their son.
By CHRIS TISCH
Published July 17, 2004
LARGO - Both men in the courtroom were fathers without sons.
The ashes of Sean Caroline's son were at home in a bottle. Louis Mevec's sons were living with relatives in New York, separated from their jailed father.
It was Mevec's loaded gun that his 14-year-old son found under the living room sofa last September. It was with it that he accidentally killed 12-year-old Sean Caroline II.
Before Mevec's sentencing Friday, Sean Caroline told Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Brandt Downey how much he missed his only son and that he wanted Mevec to understand what that felt like. Mevec's attorney said his client was a good father who just wanted to raise his boys, and that no sentence could undo Sean's death.
Downey sentenced Mevec to just under three years in prison, which will be followed by three-and-a-half years of probation. The judge also ordered Mevec to speak to groups about firearm safety, a provision requested by the Caroline family.
"When your gun killed my son," Sean Caroline told Mevec before the sentencing, "it took away the only child in the world who could or probably ever will call me dad."
A jury last month convicted Mevec of culpable negligence in Sean Caroline's death. Prosecutors and the Caroline family asked for the six-year sentence called for by sentencing guidelines, but Downey ruled there were sufficient reasons for him to depart from them.
He sentenced Mevec, 53, to the maximum prison term, but suspended more than half of it and replaced it with probation. If Mevec behaves in prison, he could be out by late 2006 or early 2007.
Sean Caroline said he was pleased with the sentence, which he said will send a message to gun owners that they need to lock up their firearms, especially if children are around.
"I hope it's opened some eyes," he said.
Mevec's attorney, Debora Moss, said she also thought the sentence was fair, though no less painful for her client, who fought back tears as Downey announced the sentence.
Sean and Jeanne Caroline say they plan to push for a mandatory gun lock law in Florida. While Mevec had locks on his guns when he worked as a firefighter in Syracuse, N.Y., he left them behind when he moved to Florida a few years ago.
New York requires trigger locks but Florida does not. The Carolines say they hope to get that changed.
They have a supporter in Judge Downey.
"I hope someone would have the fortitude to propose gun lock legislation for this state," Downey said after Friday's hearing. "It's been passed in other states. If it had been in effect here, we wouldn't be here."
While Downey said the culpable negligence law under which Mevec was prosecuted is necessary, it has some odd wrinkles regarding sentencing. He anticipates both the State Attorney's Office and the defense will appeal his sentence, which he expects an appeals panel will closely examine.
Both Moss and prosecutor Doug Ellis said they had not decided if they will appeal Mevec's sentence.
Mevec testified during his trial last month that he hid the loaded .357 Magnum under his couch for safety reasons. His oldest son, who also is named Louis, found the gun one day while searching for the television remote control.
On Sept. 5, Mevec's two sons skipped school along with a group of classmates, one of whom was Sean Caroline. They headed to the Mevec apartment, where 14-year-old Louis took the gun out from under the couch.
As Sean played a video game, Louis pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger. Louis thought he had emptied the gun of all bullets, but he accidentally left one in the gun. He shot Sean in the head, killing him instantly.
Louis later admitted guilt to a manslaughter charge and was sent to a boys village for several months.
After Mevec's conviction last month, Louis and his younger brother moved to New York to live with family members, most likely their mother, Moss said.
Downey said one of the reasons he departed from the six-year sentence was to soften the psychological blow it would have on Louis, who was forced to testify against his father during the trial.
The Carolines also said they feel a great deal of sympathy for Louis, who turns 15 next month.
They had little sympathy for his father. Both Sean Caroline and his wife, Jeanne, scolded him in court for leaving the loaded gun under the couch.
"You will receive letters from your boys in their own handwriting. You will talk to them on the phone," said Jeanne Caroline, who shook with such grief that her curly, blonde hair quivered. "We only have his pictures to talk to."
Downey, who has been a judge for 19 years, presided over hundreds of death cases and sentenced a dozen people to death, said Friday was one of the most difficult days he has experienced in court.
"It certainly was a difficult decision," he said of his sentence. "It's one of those cases like we see, unfortunately, all too often, where there are no winners and only losers."
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