It was an astounding act of grace from the parents of 14-year-old Logan Goodman, who lost his life almost two years ago, an act rarely seen in court.
Logan, who was a student at Indian Trails Middle School, was friends with Joey Renn Jr., 21 at the time. The night of January 23 Renn took Logan on a ride on Renn’s Suzuki motorcycle. They rode around the Woodlands, where Logan lived. And Renn sped. In Logan’s last moments alive, the Florida Highway Patrol concluded he’d been going 109.5 miles per hour down Blare Castle Drive, which at one point curves sharply. Renn missed the turn. The motorcycle crashed into a utility pole. Logan died. Renn was in critical condition. He survived.
He was charged with vehicular homicide. When he walked into court today to reverse his not-guilty plea, he faced up to 15 years in prison, or at least seven to nine, even with his clean record, Circuit Judge Terence Perkins told him.
But it’s not what Robert Goodman, Logan’s father, and Logan’s grandmother, wanted. A life was lost. They didn’t not want another lost to prison.
“Your honor I went over this a million times in my head since the day it happened,” Goodman told Perkins this morning. “And what the conclusion I’ve come to was is it was just too young kids that made a bad decision that day. I do not believe anything good could come from sending Joey to prison. And, you know, they were just, it was just–it was just a mistake on Joey’s part to get on that motorcycle and drive that fast. My son, he lived life every single day and he loved it. And I really believe that he was having fun when all that happened. It was just a mistake. I do not believe that Joey should be sentenced to prison for that mistake.” Logan’s mother was also on zoom, but did not speak.
Assistant State Attorney said the state wanted prison time. Goodman talked prosecutors down. They still wanted more serious jail time. “Originally we wanted him to actually do a year in jail,” Lewis said, speaking to Goodman. “Did you contact me before the actual plea date and ask the state to actually lower that number to six months because you felt like a year was too long for the situation?”
“Yes, I did. Yes, I did. I do not believe anything good will come from sending Joey to jail or prison,” Goodman said. “I think he could do better counseling his on this type of matter. Things of that nature.” Logan’s grandmother had asked the state to avoid jail altogether. But that was not likely, nor accepted.
Perkins had wanted to hear directly from Goodman, because as s-called downward departures go (meaning sentences that go lower than sentencing guidelines set out) this was extraordinary, and Perkins is not one to apply them lightly. “I know that this was not an easy decision or easy recommendation for you,” Perkins told Goodman. “Quite candidly, but for your involvement and your wishes on behalf of the family, this would be a prison sentence, unquestionably.”
The actual sentence was unusual in more ways than for its downward departure. Abiding by the plea agreement, Perkins sentenced Renn to six months in jail, starting immediately, to be followed by 14 years on probation. Every year around the anniversary of Logan’s death, Renn is to report back to the Flagler County jail for a week. The dates may have some flexibility, but the day of Logan’s death–January 23–must be within the week’s span. Renn’s driver’s license will be suspended for three years, but he will be prohibited from owning or riding motorcycles for the duration of his probation term. He will be prohibited from consuming drugs and alcohol during that span, and will have to submit toi warrantless searches or unrinalyses. He will also owe the Goodmans $20,000 in restitution, payable ion the first of each month, starting next Aug. 1, at $115 per month.
Renn will also be required to fulfill 150 hours of community service (one of the forms Renn signed calls for 200 hours), lecturing to high school students about his experience and the perils of reckless driving.
“I give great weight to the opinions and the requests of the family in these circumstances,” Perkins said as Renn, face-masked and looking rail-thin, stood in front of him at the podium, flanked by his attorney, Jeffery Higgins of Daytona Beach.
“I want to make sure you understand,” the judge told Renn. “Every case is different. I understand that. And that’s why in this case, it was particularly important that I heard from Mr. Goodman and any other members of the family.” The judge told him how prison would normally apply. “While you face up to a maximum of 15 years in prison, even even with your clean record, no priors, this would have been probably a seven to nine years. because I tell you that because you’re about to start probation. There are very specific terms of your probation. And what you need to understand is that while we hope that you successfully complete that probation, if you violate your probation, this starts all over again. So if you violate your probation–you’re on probation for 14 years, and 13 years and six months from now, you violate your probation, I can send you to prison for 15 years.”
Renn appeared in court by himself. He’d been accompanied by one other person–other than his attorney–into the courthouse, but the person did not go into the courtroom. Only Higgins, Renn’s attorney. Renn knew that he would not be walking back out that day. He could have asked to report to jail after the holidays. It’s not clear whether the judge would have allowed it. But he did not ask. His attorney did attempt to have adjudication withheld–meaning that Renn would not be branded a felon (he pleaded to a second degree felony). But Lewis said that was not on the table.
Renn, however, was granted the chance, right before Perkins imposed sentence, to read a letter he’d written Logan’s parents. He’d written it by hand, single-spaced, on ruled paper, with an earnestness reflecting an innocence perhaps still a bit younger than his young years. “I want you both to know that I never meant to hurt Logan,” he said, recalling how he’d have conversations with his younger friend, who would lift him up when he was having a bad day. He recalled Logan “saying to me ‘things happen for a reason,'” a startling statement, or at least a startling choice to include the statement in a letter to Logan’s parents, as it implied some sort of absolving, teleological rationale behind the tragedy.
“I know that I will never feel your pain but I had pain from this because my whole life I tried to make everyone happy and to see what I had done and how it hurt an entire family, it made me very disappointed in myself. Lately all I can think about was the accident and Logan.” He said he wished he could have traded places with Logan, “because I know he had so much to offer to this world,” and asked for forgiveness–a forgiveness that, even if not explicit, was at least in part implied with the limited sentence the family wished for, and that the judge imposed.
The forbearance has some limits, too. Renn faces an expensive wrongful death civil suit from Logan’s family.