JACKSONVILLE, FLA. – The 1st degree murder defendant, with relatives in the Dominican Republic, wears inmate-orange and handcuffs inside the courtroom.
Every police officer is taller than him. As are all of the other criminal defendants. The judge, as well.
This defendant is the youngest person to ever be charged as an adult with murder in Jacksonville, Florida.
He is 12 years old.
If convicted, could spend the rest of his life in prison. His name is Cristian Fernandez.
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“Yes, I have compassion for Cristian Fernandez, but it's not my job to forgive,” says Florida State Attorney Angela Corey. “It's my job to follow the law."
Police say Cristian Fernandez used premeditation and intentionally killed his brother David by violently shoving the two-year old into a bookshelf, twice, causing a skull fracture and massive internal bleeding.
The medical examiner ruled David’s cause of death as homicide, by blunt force trauma. The mother of both children, 25 year old Bianela Susana, is also in jail, unable to post her $1 million bond. She’s charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child and felony child abuse and, if convicted, she faces 30 years in prison.
Allegedly, 12-year-old Cristian has confessed.
But on his behalf, there is international outrage. More than 170,000 people have signed an online petition, urging the prosecutor to treat the 12 year old as a juvenile, not as an adult. The prosecutor disagrees, and says Florida law is Florida law.
The Sunshine State sends more juveniles into the adult prison population than any other state. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2009, 393 Florida juveniles entered adult prison, followed by Connecticut with 332, North Carolina with 215, New York with 190, Arizona with 157 and Texas with 156.
“He’s just a kid,” says Alicia Torres. Her son was a classmate of Cristian Fernandez. She signed the petition, too.
"He's a child. He's got a baby face,” says Torres. “He doesn't know - he doesn't know what's going on."
Complicating the Fernandez case is the role of the mother, Susana. Police say during the several hour window between when David was injured and she drove him to the hospital, her laptop shows that she searched what to do about an unconscious boy, checked her bank and downloaded music, before finally taking 2 year old David to the hospital.
A doctor at St. Luke’s told a police officer that had 2 year old David been treated sooner, he may have survived.
Twelve-year-old Cristian Fernandez’ public defenders believe all of the blame belongs with the mother.
" I think many would argue that she's the most culpable when it comes to the death of this child, says Matt Shirk."
In light of a plea deal that may spare this 140 pound murder defendant from the adult system, Fernandez will next be in court October 31st. His trial date has not yet been set.
The mother, Susana, goes on trial February 27th, 2012.
Phil Keating is national correspondent for Fox News Channel out of the Miami bureau.
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