A teenager who drove a black golf cart without lights on a darkened public highway before it was rear-ended by a car, killing her boyfriend, will serve six months in jail and be placed on probation for five years.
Judge Robert C. Noonan called the case a tragedy -- the actions of Cortney L. Greene, 19, of Bryon, "stupid," -- but also noted the support Greene has received from friends, family, teachers, and the parents of her victim, Zachary J. Rusin, 18, of Holley, figured into his sentencing decision.
Greene was also granted youthful offender status by Noonan, meaning if she stays out of trouble over the next five years, she won't have a felony conviction on her record.
Rusin's mother, Tracy, told Noonan she wanted to see Greene have a chance to teach other teenagers about the dangers of drinking and driving.
"He loved and cherished Cortney," Tracy Rusin said. "He always got a big smile on his face when he heard her name.
"I lost my son," she added, "and I love Cortney and I respect her. She knows what happened was wrong and I would like to help her educate people. I'm going to stand beside her every step of the way. It's hard for a parent to go through this, and I know she's going through the same thing."
While Rusin spoke, a couple of times, Cortney, standing beside her attorney Thomas Burns, wiped tears from her cheeks with the sleeves of her gray sweater.
Greene's sentence could have been just probation, or maybe intermittent jail time, instead of a straight six months, Noonan indicated, but he said it wasn't clear Greene has really learned her lesson. Twice, Noonan said, Greene violated the terms of her release under supervision contract with Genesee Justice since pleading guilty June 11 to negligent homicide and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
District Attorney Kevin Finnell said he's never seen such an outpouring of support for a defendant. He said people he knows and respects would stop him on the street and express support of Greene.
"It would be very easy for me to request incarceration based on the nature of the offense," Finnell said. "Out of respect for Mrs. Rusin and James Rusin, the father of Zach Rusin, I won't do that. Neither of them are asking for state prison."
Finnell made no sentencing recommendation, though he questioned whether Greene has reached the point in her life where she's making correct decisions.
Noonan received 24 letters of support for Greene from people in the community and more than two dozens supporters sat in the courtroom today.
Many sobbed after Noonan informed Greene she was going to jail for six months, starting today.
When Noonan told Greene the sentence was imposed because of her "misconduct" while awaiting sentencing, and that the sentence might give her time "to think long and hard about her conduct," Greene said softly, "I understand."
Burns requested Greene be granted probation and youthful offender status -- she was 18 at the time of the accident, making her eligible for YO -- because, he said, Greene has dreamed of, and has been working toward, becoming an elementary school teacher. A felony conviction would keep her from obtaining teaching credentials.
Greene loves working with children and looks forward to "teaching her own children and the children of other mothers some day."
He described a client who has tried not to show how upset she is by the events of Nov. 26, but said Greene is an emotional wreck who still hasn't truly come to terms with the enormity of the tragedy.
"It isn't just the use of substance that night," Burns said. "Even without the use of those substances, what she did when she drove that vehicle on that dark road created criminal recklessness."
Later, he added, "There was no malice in her, but there was certainly negligence in her action, and criminal negligance."
When Noonan asked Greene if she had anything to say, she responded with a terse, "Nothing, sir."
Noonan said he has thought long and hard about this case and read every letter and every document associated with it.
He said the Probation Department report recommended treating her as an adult and sending her to state prison.
"If we were to do that on either of these counts, I feel quite confident it would not be disturbed by any other court," Noonan said.
However, Noonan said, he did not intend to hinder Greene's ambition to become a teacher.
"I would agree that the levels of drugs and alcohol in your system were not as great as some of the cases I see every day," Noonan said. "Your levels were very nominal. You were not somebody out there blasted beyond the ability to know what's going on around you.
"But," Noonan added, "Your decision to go out in a black golf cart on a darkened public highway and put yourself and your boyfriend in harm's way had to have something to do with the drugs and alcohol in your system to make you make such a stupid decision."
He said by all indications, Greene's behavior that night was out of character for her.
"Lord knows your decision on that night was stupid and resulted in a terrible, terrible tragedy," Noonan said. "It is just heartbreaking to everybody in this courtroom."