13-year-old indicted as adult in killing of homeless man

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Duval County grand jury on Thursday indicted a 13-year-old boy on a charge of second-degree murder in the June shooting death of a 54-year-old homeless man.

State Attorney Angela Corey said Sharron Townsend, who was 12 when the homicide was committed, will be tried as an adult. If convicted, Townsend faces a minimum of 25 years, but could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Defense attorney Gene Nichols said a lot will be considered before Townsend ever steps foot into the courthouse.

"No matter how many times, he's committed a crime-- he's still a child. He has a child's brain."

For example, his defense will need to consider whether Townsend is even competent to stand trial for a murder charge. They will also look into how his background may have played a role at the time the crime was committed.

"I am sure that we are going to find that it has not been a pleasant life for him under any circumstance, and we're going to find that he has had difficulties. But that doesn't really matter though except potentially for a punishment," said Nichols.

Townsend is accused of shooting and killing a 54-year-old Thomas Trent in a parking lot in 7400 block of 103rd Street on June 28.

Thomas Trent
Thomas Trent

Trent's sister, Dawn McNabb, said in a statement she is "grateful" and "glad it's moving forward the way it's going."

Police said Townsend shot Trent (pictured, right) one time in the head, and the arrest report says the boy admitted to shooting him with a .22-caliber gun. Police said the murder weapon was never found.

Investigators said Townsend and Trent did not know each other. Police said the killing appears to be random, as Trent was not robbed. Townsend was identified as one of two boys seen running from the scene in security footage from a nearby business.

Townsend was on probation at the time on a previous arrest for burglary.

Townsend will be moved from the juvenile facility where he has been since his arrest Aug. 1 to the Duval County jail. Sheriff John Rutherford said that while he will be in an adult jail, he will be kept with other juveniles also facing adult charges.

INDICTMENT: State of Florida vs. Sharron Townsend

Corey was asked about trying a 13-year-old in adult court after coming under heated criticism for trying Cristian Fernandez as an adult for murder in the killing of his 2-year-old half brother. Fernandez was also 12 at the time of the crime and became the youngest person ever charged with murder as an adult in Duval County. Fernandez eventually was allowed to plead guilty as a juvenile to manslaughter and aggravated battery charges.

"I said it then, I wouldn't back down, and I'll say it again: We will never back down from seeking justice in the right way by using the right means to protect our public and to properly punish a defendant and fight for justice for our victims," Corey said. "Our juvenile system simply is not ever going to be able to deal with juveniles who commit murder, no matter what changes they make in the system. We just don't have the sentencing options that we need."

An arraignment date for Townsend was not set on Thursday, but it will likely be the first week of November.

"It's difficult for the sheriff and I to stand here and tell you that now twice in the past three years we've indicted two juveniles this young for committing murder," Corey said.

She said at the same time police were getting ready to arrest Townsend, another 13-year-old boy in South Florida was also arrested and accused of killing another homeless man.

"The irony was stunning at the time and remains stunning," Corey said. "And recently you are probably aware that a 10-year-old was arrested in Pennsylvania and put into adult court for killing a 90-year-old."

Pennsylvania law says a child who commits murder is automatically put into adult court. Corey said the decision in Florida is left to the state attorney. She said charging Townsend as an adult is appropriate.

Attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters notes the rise in young teens who are committing these violent acts.

"It does say about our society that our children are being exposed to guns and violence and that kind of corresponds to what we're hearing about guns in our school system," said Waters.

"It's not always a popular decision, but it's always the right legal, moral and ethical decision," Corey said.

Fernandez was allowed to stay in the Juvenile Detention Center until he turns 19.

Rutherford said Townsend will be able to continue his education in a school inside the jail for juveniles. He will also have recreation.

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