Jacksonville, FL – Christian Fernandez, 13, is facing a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the murder of his two-year-old half brother and the sexual abuse of another half-brother, 5.
Fernandez is the youngest inmate awaiting trial in Duval County. He is obviously being tried as an adult, but there is a fair amount of controversy surrounding that decision.
To get the full impact of this case, it is necessary to examine this boy’s life thus far, because “tragic” doesn’t even begin to describe it accurately.
Christian Fernandez was born to a 12-year-old mother, Biannela Susana, in 1999. The father, a 25-year-old man, received 10 years probation for sexually assaulting her.
Two years later, the boy was found dirty and naked wandering a South Florida street alone at 4 AM while his grandmother, who had been given responsibility for him, was holed up in a hotel room on a cocaine binge. Mother and son were placed in foster care after that incident.
In 2007, Department of Children and Families conducted an investigation to follow up on allegations that an 8-year-old Christian was being sexually abused by an older cousin. Around this time, he began acting out in disturbing ways; masturbating in school, possibly killing a kitten, and simulating sex with classmates.
In October 2010, Christian, his mother, and her new husband moved to Hialeah, FL, a Miami suburb. One day, the boy arrived at school with an eye injury severe enough that he was sent to be checked for retinal damage. He told officials that his stepfather had punched him. However, when police arrived at the house to question the man, he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Soon after that, Susana and Christian moved into a non-descript housing complex in Jacksonville where the boy was enrolled in middle school, receiving straight A’s.
A few months later, in March of 2011, Christian’s 2-year-old brother, David, was pronounced dead at the hospital with a fractured skull, a brain bleed, and a bruised eye. As Susana tells the story, she left Christian, David, and her other children home without adult supervision. When she returned, David was unresponsive, but she waited for 8-1/2 hours before bringing him to the hospital, instead choosing to perform Internet searches on “unconsciousness” and seeking advice via texts to her friends.
Susana, who would eventually plead guilty to aggravated manslaughter in the case and could get 30 years, also revealed to investigators that Christian had broken the toddler’s leg several weeks previously while the two were wrestling. A medical examiner stated that he believed the boy might have survived the subsequent head injury had he been brought to the hospital sooner.
Christian was initially interviewed as a witness in the death, but was eventually charged with first-degree murder. During the course of the investigation, he was also charged with sexual abuse when his 5-year-old half brother maintained that he had been molested by Christian.
“Christian denied any plans or intent to kill his brother,” one doctor wrote. “He seemed rather defensive about discussing what triggered his anger. He talked about having a ‘flashback’ of the abuse by his stepfather as the motive for this offense… Christian was rather detached emotionally while discussing the incident.”
Since the boy has been deemed a violence threat, he will be detained through what could be a very lengthy trial.
However, the legal controversy surrounding the case is significant. First of all is the question over whether or not a child so young can be sentenced to life without parole. Secondly, can a 13-year-old, particularly with a past as sordid as Christian’s, fully understand his crimes and/or the complex legal issues they pose?
In August, Judge Mallory Cooper deemed the police interrogation transcripts inadmissible in court because the boy could not have fully understood his Miranda rights, nor comprehended his right to speak with an attorney. Prosecutors are appealing this decision.
Meanwhile, the defense is moving for all charges to be dismissed since the U.S. Supreme Court has banned life sentences without parole levied to juveniles, and Florida Legislature has not changed their state laws to allow them. As a result, they are claiming they cannot effectively advise their client.
Prosecutors say they never claimed to be seeking a mandatory life sentence. Rather, they say the old Florida law that called for a 25-year-to-life sentence could apply.
“I know they’re good people and good lawyers,” Mitch Stone, a Jacksonville defense attorney who is familiar with the case, said. “But if a resolution short of trial doesn’t occur, this case is on a collision course to sending Christian Fernandez to life in prison. That’s why this is one of those very difficult cases. It’s hard to understand what the appropriate measure is.”
I think it’s very easy to label Christian a “monster” and to want to throw the book at him hard. However, I find it difficult to take that stance when I take into account his past, how it was riddled with abuse at the hands of others, and his age. If anyone could be a poster child for environmentally-induced sociopathy, I vote for Christian Fernandez. I realize that the same could be said for many other criminals doing life terms, but I personally find this case particularly sad since it seems the prosecution is willing to throw a 13-year-old’s life into the trash bin without any attempt at rehabilitation ever being made.
Call me a bleeding heart, but I can’t help but feel that our society has let Christian Fernandez down in the very worst ways.Tags: Biannela Susana, Child Sexual Abuse, Christian Fernandez, Florida, Murder