PHOENIX, ARIZONA – A judge sentenced a man who shot and killed the operator of a speed-camera van on a Phoenix freeway to 22 years in prison on Friday after an emotional hearing during which family members of both victim and assailant wept as they spoke of the consequences of the crime that made national headlines.
Thomas Patrick Destories, 69, received the sentence Friday as part of a plea deal. He had faced a charge of first-degree murder but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree murder under the deal. He got credit for 487 days already served.
“Taking innocent life is never justified even for great causes, and this was over photo radar,” Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp said just before sentencing Destories. “I think Mr. Destories was trying to make a political statement.”
Destories was convicted in the April 19, 2009, fatal shooting of 51-year-old Doug Georgianni, who was operating a speed-enforcement van on a Phoenix freeway.
Authorities never said what they believe the motive for the killing was, but Destories and Georgianni had never met. Many concluded at the time that the killing was the most extreme backlash against the state’s speed-enforcement program, which began in September 2008 and ended July 16 after Gov. Jan Brewer said the cameras were intrusive, leading the state Department of Public Safety to end the program.
Destories says he didn’t know anyone was manning the speed-camera van when he fired at it.
Georgianni’s mother, father, siblings and wife spoke in court, all of them weeping and visibly shaking as they talked of a big-grinned, cookie-crazed man who loved baseball, golf, and above all, his family.
“The worst nightmare a parent can have is to lose a child,” said June Dorcheus, Georgianni’s mother, who had a stroke when she heard her son was dead. “There’s a hole in my heart.”
Georgianni’s father, who now has clinical depression, spoke of how he talked to his son every day before he went out to man a speed-camera van and after his shift ended at 9 p.m.
“I was waiting for the usual call at 9 o’clock that night. It never came,” Michael Georgianni said. “Now the phone doesn’t ring anymore at 9.”
Georgianni’s wife of three years, Jean Georgianni, was barely audible as she spoke of her husband and the “deepest love I’ve ever known.”
“He used to say we were like an old pair of shoes — we just fit together,” she said. “Each day ended with I love you.’”
Destories loudly wept at times as Georgianni’s loved ones spoke. Later he stood and faced Georgianni’s family and spoke directly to them.
“I would like to express my deepest sympathy,” he said through tears. “No words can convey such a loss or heal the terrible grief you are suffering … I never intended to harm anyone. Please forgive me.”
His three daughters also addressed the court, apologizing to Georgianni’s family and saying their dad was a good man who made the biggest mistake of his life when he shot at the speed-camera van.
Georgianni had worked for three months for RedFlex Traffic Systems Inc., which operated the photo radar system, and had just a few days left on the job before he was to leave to sell insurance. He was sitting in the van doing paperwork with an interior light turned on when he was shot three times in the chest.
He called his wife, who called 911, and he died soon after at a hospital. That was the last time the couple spoke; they were about to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
The killing highlighted the controversy over the state’s speed-enforcement system. Arizonans used sticky notes, Silly String and even a pickax to sabotage the cameras.
Former Gov. Jan Napolitano had cited traffic safety considerations when she directed the DPS to launch the first-of-its-kind program, but critics said her later inclusion of a $90 million revenue estimate in a budget proposal revealed that money was the real motivation.
But profits from the program fell far below expectations, with many drivers who received tickets in the mail ignoring them because they knew they had a good shot at getting away with it; a ticket became invalid if a violator who ignored it wasn’t served in person within three months.
The cameras remain on freeways throughout the state even though the program was ended, but they should be removed by Labor Day.