By Joe Gorman
Judge John M. Durkin said he knew his decision would be unpopular.
He placed James Fortunato on five years’ probation after Fortunato pleaded guilty to charges he helped supply the heroin that killed an Austintown man in 2009.
In handing down the sentence Thursday, Judge Durkin, of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, also ordered Fortunato, 26, of Austintown, to perform 200 hours of community service talking to grade school and high school students about what heroin can do to peoples’ lives. He also has to pay a $500 fine and court costs.
Fortunato, the son of county purchasing director James Fortunato, entered guilty pleas to charges of reckless homicide, trafficking in heroin and complicity to possess heroin.
Dan Mancuso, the father of Gino Mancuso, 21, who died in his father’s home Nov. 27, 2009, said the grief he and his family have felt is overwhelming.
“Our lives have been shattered and our hearts have been shredded,” Mancuso said. “Some days we don’t even feel like getting out of bed. And we don’t.”
Dan’s wife, Marianne, said the judge’s sentence was horrific. “We’re very, very disappointed,” she said.
“I feel all my brother’s life is worth is $500,” added his sister, Cara Gaetano.
Judge Durkin’s decision came after an almost one-hour presentation by Dan Mancuso.
Mancuso said his son played sports and also excelled in the classroom. He had a 4.0 grade-point average when he graduated from Austintown Fitch High School and was accepted to Carnegie Mellon University, where he majored in computer science and business administration.
Just before his death, while holding down a part-time job, he promised his father he would get his grade-point average up to 3.5 so he could graduate with honors. His grades were just below that threshold when he died.
Officials at CMU awarded Gino Mancuso his diploma posthumously, and Dan Mancuso showed it to the judge.
Mancuso said he is still haunted by the image of finding his son’s body in his bedroom. He said he was half asleep on his couch when his son and Fortunato passed him and headed for his son’s room.
“That was the last time I saw my son alive,” Mancuso said.
Mancuso blamed the younger Fortunato for his son’s death, and he urged the judge to give the maximum sentence, not for revenge, but to ensure that people are safe from Fortunato for a long time.
He pointed to other cases in which people were sentenced to 10 years or 20 years in prison for supplying drugs that led to someone’s death.
Martin Desmond, an assistant county prosecutor, said this case is different from those other drug- supply cases because Fortunato does not have a lengthy criminal record, as the other defendants did; he cooperated by telling investigators where he got the heroin; and that in those other cases, the defendants also received sentences for other charges besides the ones that caused someone’s death.
Fortunato’s lawyer, J. Gerald Ingram, said at one point his client was a wreck because of heroin. He said he entered a treatment program on his own, has been sober for more than two years, has a job and just started a business.
Fortunato apologized, saying that he agonizes every day over the loss of his best friend, although the Mancusos disputed the fact that the two were friends.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, and many times I wish I could trade places [with him],” Fortunato said.
Judge Durkin said the case was a tough one, and he had thought about it for a long while. He said that heroin and opiate addictions are destroying lives, and he thought one of the best ways to deter people from using drugs was to have someone who has been ruined by them to let others know of the danger.
“Maybe Gino’s life can be remembered if we can save someone else’s,” Judge Durkin said to Fortunato. “And to me there is no better messenger than you.”
He told the Mancusos he understood how they felt.
“No matter what I do from here, I’m certain I’m going to disappoint you,” Judge Durkin said.
Judge Durkin warned Fortunato that if he violates his probation, he will serve a three-year sentence that was called for in the plea bargain.