The youngest defendant ever to face a murder charge in Duval County stood in shackles before Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper on Monday to learn he faces trial on Feb. 27, 2012.
Attorneys for 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez last month rejected a plea agreement offered by prosecutors that would have reduced the charge in the death of Fernandez's 2-year-old half brother to second-degree murder. It also would have allowed the boy to serve his time in a juvenile facility and be released when he turned 21 years old.
Public Defender Matt Shirk said that efforts to work out a plea deal will continue up until the trial. If Fernandez is convicted of first-degree murder in the toddler's beating death, he would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
"I don’t feel like a child should face the possibility of life without parole. That’s ridiculous," said Alicia Torres, whose son attended school with Fernandez. "Being a mom, it just, breaks my heart. I was almost in tears in the courtroom."
Also Monday, State Attorney Angela Corey said the state would file additional charges against Fernandez later this week in connection with a second victim who she would identify only as another family member.
"It’s my obligation to that victim and it’s my obligation as a prosecutor," Corey said. "It in no way means it would prohibit any working out of this case in the future."
Public Defender Matt Shirk said Fernandez is holding up well, given the circumstances, but it still isn't clear if he understands the severity of the situation he's in.
"It’s very unfortunate that this little boy could be subjected to some further adult sanctions," Public Defender Matt Shirk said after Monday's hearing. "It's awful. He’s a little boy. We believe he should be in juvenile court, where little boys should be when they’re facing these kinds of things."
Shirk said it doesn't help that Fernandez has no parental guidance. His mother, who is facing a manslaughter charge in connection with the same death, surrendered her parental rights earlier this year.
"We're all he has, so we’re fighting very hard," Shirk said. "We’re going to turn every stone over and cross every t and dot every i and do all we can to save this little boy from a prison sentence."