This is an interesting, and troubling, case. Cristian Fernandez, 14, was being tried as an adult for allegedly murdering his 2 year old brother, when Cristian himself was just 12, and allegedly sexually abusing another brother who was 5.
Fernandez reached a plea deal today (copy of plea document is below) with prosecutors in which he will be sentenced as a minor for manslaughter (the sexual assault charges were dropped earlier), and will remain in a juvenile facility until he’s 19. He was facing a possible life in prison, after being charged earlier as an adult.
From Cristian’s defense team, via email:
“We have accomplished our mission to salvage Cristian Fernandez’s ability to have a normal adult life. It was an injustice to charge him with First Degree Murder and we are pleased that he will be treated as a juvenile, as he should have been from the outset. Now he can move on,” said Henry M. (“Hank”) Coxe III, a member of Cristian’s defense team.
Christian Fernandez, the 13-year-old Florida boy who is charged as an adult with first-degree murder in the 2011 beating death of his 2-year-old half-brother and the sexual abuse of his 5-year-old half-brother, has had a life marked by violence and neglect.
When he was just two-years-old, Fernandez was found naked and dirty, wandering a South Florida street. The grandmother taking care of him was holed up with cocaine in a motel room, while his 14-year-old mother was nowhere to be found.
His very conception resulted in a sexual assault conviction against his father, and Fernandez’ life got worse from there. He was sexually assaulted by a cousin and beaten by his stepfather, who committed suicide before police investigating the beating arrived.
The boy learned to squelch his feelings, once telling a counselor: “You got to suck up feelings and get over it.”
Jesus. And you should see his photo. He’s a child himself. Also, it should be noted that the boy’s mother is a disaster. He clearly had a horrible life. More on that from Dr. Drew.
The case has garnered a lot of interest because of the gruesome nature of it, the fact that it involves a boy so young, and from a juvenile justice perspective. Namely, the concern that Fernandez was able to finally get a plea bargain today which removed him from adult prosecution only because of the intense publicity and good lawyering that he was able to get. Many other kids facing adult prosecution around the country are less fortunate.
I’m not generally your go-to guy on juvenile justice issues. My experiences witnessing the process in DC have not been similar to what Fernandez went through. In this town, good luck getting anyone prosecuted, let alone a teenager or less. I do believe that a lot of politics is about incentives. Political actors, and I include police and prosecutors in that mix, do what they do, quite often, based on pressure. So I’m reticent, at least as a DC resident (who was violently mugged by 2 juveniles, and watched the cops let one of their accomplices go from the scene of the crime) to exert more pressure in the direction of fewer, or lesser, prosecutions of juveniles.
Having said that, when I watch this video of Fernandez speaking to the police, below, I’m sympathetic to the defense’s contention that it’s difficult to imagine a kid of this age being fully cognizant of his rights. I’m not entirely comfortable with him sitting in the room alone with a cop and agreeing to his Miranda rights, as in this video below. Does he really know what he’s agreeing to? Does a kid like that really think it’s okay for him to refuse to talk to a cop? Can he truly appreciate whether or not he needs to call a lawyer before speaking? This video, admittedly, bothers me (it also bothers me that the video is public at all – he’s a juvenile, I’m not sure this should be available on YouTube):
At the very least, we should perhaps require that lawyers be present, period, when a child is being interrogated. At least if the kid is 12 years old. 17 year olds may, or may not, be a different story.
I’m also sympathetic to the argument that the way children are treated differs based on the level of publicity, or notoriety, their case has attained, or whether they’ve been able to get a good lawyer. Regardless of how you can come down on juvenile justice issues, firmly or gently, all kids in the system should be treated the same.
Here’s a copy of the plea bargain: