Decision to charge 13-year-old as adult questioned

Well-known defense attorney says Legislature should fix juvenile system if needed


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Some are questioning State Attorney Angela Corey's announcement that a 13-year-old will be charged as an adult in the killing of a homeless man.

Prominent defense attorney Ann Finnell said the juvenile justice system should handle the case of Sharron Townsend, who was 12 when police said he shot and killed 54-year-old Thomas Trent (pictured below) in a Westside parking lot in June.

Finnell said if changes need to be made, then the state Legislature should make them. 

Townsend isn't the youngest person to have been charged with murder in Duval County, but he is close. In 2011, Corey took a lot of criticism when she charged 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez with murder in the death of his 2-year-old half brother.

Thomas Trent
Thomas Trent

"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 Thursday.

That is not stopping critics from speaking out again. Finnell was part of the team that successfully defended Brenton Butler, who was 15 years old when he was arrested and charged with murdering a tourist outside Westside hotel. During the trial, it became evident that police beat a confession out of Butler. He was acquitted of murder.

Finnell said a 13-year-old is just too young to try as an adult.

"(They) just have no business in adult court," she said. "If we have to beef up t

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of Sharron Townsend
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of Sharron Townsend

he juvenile system and do something there, that is for the Legislature. But unilaterally making decisions to try 12- and 13-year-olds in adult court is a mistake."

Finnell said if Townsend (pictured) is found guilty of second-degree murder, the minimum sentence of 25 years is too much.

"We are talking about a firearm being used and a sentence of 25 to life, which I think would be terribly inappropriate for a person who was 12 when they committed the crime," Finnell said.

Corey said during the announcement of Townsend's indictment Thursday that she anticipated this type of reaction.

"These types of crimes just cannot stay in the juvenile justice system," she said. "We're not going to back down. It doesn't matter how many people file petitions or people who call you and want to give you quotes about Angela Corey and this office. We're always going to follow the law and do the right thing for the right reason. It's not always a popular decision, but it's always the right legal, moral and ethical decision."

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