JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – He’s Jacksonville’s youngest murder suspect and a new ruling by Circuit Court Judge Mallory Cooper isn’t changing that.
On Tuesday, Cooper denied the motion to dismiss a first-degree murder indictment against 13-year-old Cristian Fernandez.
"What we’re actually seeing here is the court has sustained the position of the state and has permitted it to proceed with a first-degree murder charge against Cristian Fernandez,” explained local criminal defense attorney Dale Carson.
Back in August, Fernandez’s defense attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the murder indictment. In Florida, a first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole or death. But this summer, the Supreme Court ruled that applying those sentences to a suspect under the age of 18 amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment.”
But in her ruling on Tuesday, Cooper denied their motion calling their argument “premature” because Fernandez has yet to be convicted.
Fernandez is being charged with first-degree murder in the death of his 2-year-old half brother. He was arrested in March 2011. Authorities say Fernandez was home alone with the toddler when he suffered a fractured skull, bruising to his left eye, and a bleeding brain.
In the ruling, Cooper says it will be up to a sentencing court to “consider the totality of the circumstances, including the offender’s age and how children are different, before imposing a particular penalty.”
But despite the Supreme Court ruling, Cooper says “the potential maximum sentence a juvenile could constitutionally face if convicted of first-degree murder is still that of incarceration for life without parole.”
Earlier this year, Cooper tossed out the police interrogations of Fernandez and an unrelated sexual battery charge ruling that he had not fully understood his rights.
"It's all going to be up to a jury and it's up to the state to present evidence that convinces the jury panel, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he in fact premeditated the death of his sibling,” said Carson.
After the ruling was given, the State Attorney’s Office issued this statement:
“With today’s order, the State Attorney’s Office will continue to move forward with the prosecution of Cristian Fernandez. We will not comment further about the order or the pending case.”
Fernandez’s trial is tentatively scheduled for March 4.