ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Aiden Fucci entered a plea of guilty in the 2021 killing of St. Johns County 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey on Monday morning.
Judge R. Lee Smith accepted Fucci’s plea to the count of first-degree murder.
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Fucci made a very brief statement, saying, “I’m sorry for the Bailey family and my family.”
Action News Jax Law and Safety Expert Dale Carson said “the defendant always has the opportunity to make a decision to plead guilty.”
According to a release from State Attorney R.J. Larizza’s office, “The plea was an open plea to the court. There was no plea offer made by the Seventh Circuit State Attorney’s Office at any time.”
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Fucci will appear in court again at 9 a.m. on February 23 for a status hearing and Smith said a sentencing date will be chosen then.
The sentencing is expected to take two days.
On Wednesday, Fucci’s defense team filed a motion requesting the trial be pushed back. Smith denied that motion.
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Another motion, one of several in the past few months, was also filed by Fucci’s defense, asking that the trial be moved out of St. Johns County. Smith denied that motion in December.
Fucci was being charged as an adult with first-degree premeditated murder. Jury selection in his trial was set to start Monday prior to his guilty plea.
Last month, Action News Jax told you when Smith agreed with the state’s motion for a 6-person jury. Prosecutors argued there is no constitutional right to a 12-person jury. That’s because Fucci is a minor and can’t receive the death penalty.
RELATED: Dozens gather to honor and remember Tristyn Bailey one year later
Fucci killed Tristyn on Mother’s Day in 2021. Investigators said he stabbed Tristyn more than 100 times in Durbin Crossing, less than a half-mile from Fucci’s house in the neighborhood where they both lived.
A charge of first-degree murder typically holds a mandatory minimum sentence of 40 years in prison with a maximum of life in prison. Carson said Fucci’s case would be up for review after he has served 20 years since he was 14 when he committed the crime due to a recent change in the law.
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Tristyn Bailey’s family, who goes by the name the “Bailey 7,” released the following statement through their attorney Matthew H. Hinson:
“Foremost, we would like to give thanks to God. Since this nightmare began, we have had the love and support of so many. We know so many have lifted Tristyn, our family, and her friends up in prayer. The members of our community have been simply exceptional in the support they have given us.
“This morning’s surprise change of plea brings our family significant relief. With the detailed and exemplary investigative work of the Saint Johns County Sheriff’s Office, along with the trial preparation by the 7th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, we are confident that the jury would have returned a guilty verdict. Just as Tristyn fought for her life, we equally fought for her and would not agree to any plea deal. We were fully aligned with the Prosecutor in rejecting the proposed plea deals mentioned by the Public Defender during the plea hearing.
“Today is an important milestone in the journey of Justice for Tristyn. As mentioned, we would not be at this point without the dedicated efforts of so many.
“We know that it has been a team effort to which so many have contributed. On behalf of Tristyn and our family, thank you. We cannot say enough about R.J. Larizza’s team at the State Attorney’s Office. Your tireless efforts, professionalism, and support demonstrate your commitment to justice for our community.
“We wish we could thank everyone by name, and there will be a time for that, but there are a few people we want to thank individually.
“To begin, we are blessed to have Jennifer Dunton as our lead prosecutor. Throughout the process, she has been extremely respectful of our family whilst being keenly focused on delivering Justice. Mrs. Dunton – thank you for all your efforts to this point. We never questioned what the outcome would be with her thorough preparation. Along with fellow prosecutor Mark Johnson, we have no doubt that Mrs. Dunton and Mr. Johnson would have been successful in getting a guilty verdict in any Florida courtroom. We have faith in their abilities in the upcoming sentencing phase.
“This case was built off the exceptional work of the Saint Johns County Sheriff’s Office led by Sheriff Rob Hardwick. We were immediately given confidence in the case being built by Sergeant Kurt Hannon who was the lead during the criminal investigation. We know his updates were representative of the entire SJSO: our sincere thanks to them all. In addition to Sergeant Hannon, we cannot express enough thanks to our victim’s advocate, Ashley Mitchell. We don’t know how we would navigate this without you.
“The partnership between the SJSO and 7th Circuit SAO, along with the collaborative efforts of the FDLE and Duval Corrections office, have reflected amazing cooperation between government agencies. Again, we are thankful for everyone that has contributed in the journey of getting Justice for Tristyn. Of special note, we extend our thanks to the families of these agencies as we know they have made many sacrifices as well.
“For the incredible community support we have received, we remain committed to reflecting on the kind and good deeds in honor of Tristyn’s spirit. With the backing of our community, neighborhood, counselors, friends, and family, we have been able to endure the nearly two years since Tristyn was taken from us while managing to share her cheer: “We got this!”
“This is obviously not over yet. There is still a sentencing phase that our family must endure. Make no mistake, the most important things to our family at this time are justice and Tristyn’s legacy. As the judicial process continues, we will have more to say publicly. However, we must respect the judicial process so we ask that the media and the community continue to respect that process and our family’s privacy. On this note, we would like to express our thanks and gratitude to attorney Matthew H. Hinson who has stepped in to serve as our representative for all media contacts and inquiries. Thank you all, again.”
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St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick released the following statement about the plea:
“Aiden Fucci’s decision to enter a guilty plea today is nothing more than a testament to the hard work and dedication of the exceptional men and women of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office (SJSO). This was an all-out agency effort.
“This was also an incredible community effort. The citizens of St. Johns County always show up and this case was no different. The immediate assistance from our community reaffirms the partnership we have with our citizens. The support they showed the Bailey Family was something special to witness.
“The trial preparation process is just as tedious as the investigation itself. The detectives have not stopped working on this case since the initial call we received. The State Attorney’s Office immediately went to work upon Fucci’s arrest and has put forth countless hours to prepare for today. SJSO has worked hand-in-hand with the State Attorney’s Office and we couldn’t be more appreciative of the partnership. Additionally, I’d like to thank the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for its unwavering assistance since the start of this case.
“Lastly, the cooperation between our agency and the Bailey Family has been unparalleled. Their strength and grace throughout this case have been incredible. This agency will forever be connected to the Bailey Family and this community will forever be #BaileyStrong.”
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Larizza released the following statement:
“Today was a major event in this case. We still have work to do and we will be diligently preparing for the sentencing hearing to hold the defendant accountable for his actions. We will be seeking the maximum sentence available under law – a life sentence.”
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