A northeast Ohio judge known for doling out unusual sentences has told a drunken driving offender that he could avoid jail by viewing the corpses of two car crash victims.
On Tuesday Jonathan Tarase, 27, entered a plea of no contest to the charge of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, stemming from an OVI arrest in Lake County, Ohio, last Oct. 14. In addition to paying a $600 fine and having his driver's license suspended, Tarase can avoid jail if he accepts the judge's sentence to view bodies.
Because Tarase was a first time offender, Judge Mike Cicconetti suspended 60 days of his 65-day sentence. In addition to allowing Tarase to spend three days at a driver intervention program rather than behind bars, Cicconetti ruled that the two remaining days could be spent "on call" to view driving fatalities.
"It would not be done without management by the Probation Department, or without all due sensitivities and the victim's family's approval," Cicconetti told ABCNews.com. "This is not some morbid curiosity. This is to prevent acts like this, and as a notice to everyone else in my community: There will be consequences that you may not like."
Cicconetti said that Tarase may have to head to nearby Cleveland to view the victims, or to coroners' offices or emergency rooms within 50 miles of the county.
Cicconetti, who has been the Painesville Municipal Court judge since 1994, has dispensed other sentences considered atypical and sometimes controversial, which he defends, saying they fit the crimes.
In 2009, as punishment for soliciting a prostitute, a man was forced to wear a chicken suit in public -- a sentence inspired by the Chicken Ranch Brothel in the "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." And in 2005, Cicconetti sentenced 26-year-old Ohio homemaker Michelle Murray to spend a night out in the cold for abandoning 33 kittens in the dead of winter, nine of which died.
"She was harboring cats and she got overwhelmed and dumped them in the woods," he said. "Her sentence was, 'You go out in the woods the same way you dumped these kittens off."
Right before he delivered the sentence, Cicconetti asked Murray, "How would you like to be dumped off in the Metro Park at night, listening to the coyotes up on you, listening to the raccoons around you?"
But her sentence got cut short: That night the county was hit by a major snowstorm, and officials had to bring Murray and everyone else in around midnight. Still, Cicconetti said, he believed the punishment worked.
"We used to get abandoned cat cases. We haven't in a while," the judge said.
As for his detractors, Cicconetti tells them he's doing the right thing.
"There have been people that don't like [these sentences], that think I'm doing this for publicity. ... You get criticism, mostly from people hiding behind fictitious names on a blog. It's what I think is right at the time. I do what I think is right."
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