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June 6, 2011

Possible Graham sequel from Jacksonville based on 1st-degree murder charge for 12-year-old

060311fernandezThere must be something in the water in Jacksonville, Florida that makes it a special place for the development of cutting-edge juvenile crime and punishment issues. Astute readers know that Terrance Graham, whose case led the Supreme Court last year to declare that LWOP sentence for juveniles for nonhomicide crimes violate the Eighth Amendment, hailed from Jacksonville.  Now a possible Graham sequel is in the works from the same locale based on this local story headlined "Jacksonville 12-year-old charged with first-degree murder of brother." Here are some of the disturbing specifics:

Months before Jacksonville police say 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez beat his 2-year-old half brother to death, investigators started asking why the toddler's leg was broken. The family said David Galarriago had an accident while playing on a jungle gym, according to court papers.

Thursday, prosecutors say that wasn't just a lie but a warning sign about the rampant abuse that ultimately took the toddler's life and made Fernandez the youngest person in city history to be charged with first-degree murder.

"It is disturbing, but when you know you have to balance the safety of other children in the home and in the community, it is not so disturbing," State Attorney Angela Corey said after a grand jury indicted Fernandez.

With the indictment, Fernandez is being transported from a juvenile detention center to the Duval County jail although Corey said he'll be placed with the jail's juvenile inmates. He faces adult charges that already have criminal law experts wondering how well Fernandez could have understood his actions.

"Especially if it's a beating death, you could argue that the child did not have the intent to kill, which would be necessary even for second-degree murder," said Robert Batey, professor of criminal law at Stetson University College of Law. "Or that the child was not capable of the cool thinking beforehand that's implied by the notion of premeditation."

Galarriago died in March with a fractured skull, a bleeding brain and bruising to his left eye and nose, according to court documents....

Before Fernandez's indictment, the youngest person charged with a Jacksonville homicide was 13-year-old Thomas Thompson.  He was convicted and sentenced to life in 1994 for shooting an off-duty corrections officer, Tammy Jo Johnson, to death in a robbery outside a Westside bar.

Christopher Slobogin, director of the criminal justice program at Vanderbilt University Law School, said many states don't even allow such a charge for children Fernandez's age.  But Florida's laws allow prosecutors to "direct file" cases in criminal court for children even younger than Fernandez.  "Even in Florida, kids this young are rarely prosecuted in adult court, even for crimes this serious," Slobogin said.

Slobogin pointed out that Lionel Tate was charged with first-degree murder at the same age in 1999 for the beating death of a 6-year-old girl he was baby-sitting in Broward County and received a life sentence.  That conviction was overturned by an appeals court in 2004 after the panel found it wasn't clear whether Tate understood the charges.

Even in that case, Slobogin said, the first-degree murder charge was only filed after the family rejected a plea deal in juvenile court.  Because of his age, Fernandez will not face the death penalty. If convicted of first-degree murder, he would be sentenced to life without parole.

June 6, 2011 at 05:57 PM | Permalink

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