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Victim's mom calls Austintown man's probation in OD death 'horrific'

Published: Fri, July 19, 2013 @ 12:09 a.m.

Victim’s mom calls sentence ‘horrific’

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.


1michael1757(490 comments)posted 3 years ago

No,his fathers position had nothing to do with his getting only probation,Kill someone with your drug's,& you go home to dinner.. Yeah,ok,right.

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2vinglass(295 comments)posted 3 years ago

Son is a county official?? No special treatment?? Bull___t.

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3TERRAPINST(321 comments)posted 3 years ago

That is why our system of justice doesn't allow the victim's mother to determine sentence. This is horrible indeed but Fortunato had no intention of killing the addict who abused the drug. Noone MADE the young man ingest the heroin. I pray for his family, but the young man is dead and that is a tragedy but he is dead because he was a junkie-he would have found the drug_Durkin handed down the appropriate sentence. Everyone else out there knows that if you shoot up heroin you might die right?

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4fcb(463 comments)posted 3 years ago

This guys father and the judge play golf together on Sunday!!

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5greene(167 comments)posted 3 years ago

RL973 >> You are rught. Our choices have consequences.

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6vinglass(295 comments)posted 3 years ago

" This guys father and the judge play golf together on Sunday!! "

I thought a judge was supposed to recluse himself under those circumstances.....This should be brought to the attention of the state

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7SeekingJustice(1 comment)posted 3 years ago

richardlewis973 - here is something to wrap your brain around......... Your empathy for this family says it all. Let me guess by your comments – you aren’t a parent. I know the victim’s family well and they are wonderful caring people and parents. The victim came home from college for the holiday weekend, an acquaintance pursued him and he made a poor choice. That doesn’t take away from the great son, brother, friend and student that he was. He was human like me and you. He was not an addict. He made a wrong decision and paid for it with his life. I will clear another point for you, Fortunato was a heroin dealer - seeking out acquaintances - not building friendships. Police investigated this and the prosecutor’s office has the evidence and facts to support several charges.. He pled guilty to a pleaded down homicide charge. How does one take responsibility for his actions with a sentence of probation? The prosecutor recommended prison time and Judge Durkin decided that probation was a fit punishment. That’s a very encouraging message to send to all other heroin dealers out there. Shame on Judge Durkin – I think this case needs to be investigated by another set of eyes. Three years of taxpayers’ money and numerous docket entries of cancellations and postponements with an outcome of probation and a small fine!! Are you kidding me?

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8LtMacGowan(714 comments)posted 3 years ago

The guy was an adult. He chose to buy the Heroin. He chose to use the Heroin, but we canonize him and demonize the guy that sold it to a willing adult?

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