YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Years from now, Cornell Arrington may look back on Tuesday as his second birthday.
Court and jail records say he was born Sept. 21, 1998.
But Tuesday, June 8, 2021, Arrington was given a new lease on life when he was released by Judge Anthony D’Apolito from the Mahoning County Jail, where he has been since he was sentenced to three years probation on gun and drug charges, with the first 90 days of the probation to be spent in the jail.
“Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” Judge D’Apolito told him.
Arrington, who told the judge during his April 14 sentencing hearing in common pleas court that he could not think of a good reason not to go to prison and that he did not have much to live for, touched a nerve with a lot of people, the judge said.
When word of what he said at his sentencing and what the judge told him got out, Judge D’Apolito was inundated with offers from people wanting to help Arrington, the judge said during a status hearing with Arrington via video hookup from the jail.
“I had more people reaching out to me about you than any other defendant I’ve ever had,” the judge said. “They were struck by the sadness that you did not have a lot of hope for your future. They want to help.”
It was because of those offers and also because Arrington has been staying out of trouble in the jail that Judge D’Apolito said made him decide now is the right time for Arrington to begin his new journey.
One of those people who reached out was Guy Burney, head of the Youngstown Community Initiative To Reduce Violence, or CIRV, which provides services such as counseling, jobs and other things to people who are at risk for either committing or being a victim of gun violence.
It was clear from Arrington’s sentencing hearing he fell into the former category. He told the judge he needed to have a gun because of “people being envious of me being in the streets,” and he had also been shot in the leg before, for which he said he had been hoarding Oxycontin to deal with the pain. A cousin was also murdered in March.
Arrington pleaded guilty in March to charges of improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle and possession of cocaine, his first two felonies. He was arrested Oct. 24 after he was pulled over about 2:05 a.m. at West Princeton Avenue and Hillman Street for speeding and police found some drugs and a loaded Glock semiautomatic pistol underneath his seat.
Free on bond while awaiting sentencing, he missed three appointments to be interviewed for his presentence investigation and tested positive for marijuana and Oxycontin. When Judge D’Apolito said he could not find a reason not to send Arrington to prison, Arrington replied: “I can’t either.”
The judge said that remark bothered him as well as when Arrington said he has no hope because people who feel hopeless often feel no fear, thus they would not be afraid to use the gun they had hidden under the front seat.
A year in prison — the maximum sentence Arrington could receive — would not cure that, the judge said. But probation, where Arrington would have to earn a GED and get substance abuse and mental health counseling, might give him a better chance in the future than prison, which is why he received a sentence of probation with a warning if he got in trouble again he would be sent to prison for the remainder of his sentence.
Judge D’Apolito is familiar with Burney from the time when the judge was an administrator in juvenile court.
“He’s positive,” Judge D’Apolito said of Burney. “He understands Youngstown and the different streams young people have to navigate in our community.”
Burney also said he was familiar a bit with Arrington; in 2017, Arrington attended one of the CIRV call ins where the perils of street life are explained. Arrington said he did not remember.
“You made some choices that were not good for your future,” Burney said. “And now you’re here.”
Burney said Arrington will be released to the Community Corrections Association, where he will be given counseling and education programs to get his life on track. Burney will also be close by to report Arrington’s progress to the judge and also to help Arrington transition back to the community, the judge said.
The judge said he will watch, and if Arrington gets in trouble, there will be consequences.
Burney said Arrington will need support, which is why he will work closely with him and mentor him, but he added he already has a lot to work with Arrington.
“I think there’s a lot of value in you,” Burney told Arrington.
Arrington, who looked small through the video feed as he stood in a holding cell in the jail, addressed both Burney and the judge as “sir.”
The judge warned Arrington there will be people both in CCA and on the streets who will try to distract him. He urged Arrington to ignore him.
He also urged Arrington to realize the chance he has been given. It is not offered to a lot of people, the judge said.
“Take advantage of it,” the judge said.
The judge said in years, Arrington can look back on today as the day his life began anew. Or, he could be back in jail and regret that he didn’t take the chance offered him. The choice is his, Judge D’Apolito said.
“Let’s get to work,” the judge said before adjourning the hearing.