Teen pleads guilty to 2014 murder of homeless man

Sharron Townsend was 12 when he fatally shot 54-year-old Thomas Trent

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A teenager who was 12 years old in June 2014 when he was accused in the shooting death of a 54-year-old homeless man pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to second-degree murder.

Sharron Townsend, now 14, was charged as an adult after he shot Thomas Trent in a parking lot on 103rd Street. Trent's body was found June 28, 2014.

Police said Townsend shot Trent once in the head. The arrest report said the boy admitted to shooting him with a .22-caliber gun. Police said the murder weapon was never found.

Investigators said Townsend and Trent (pictured below) did not know one another. Police said the killing appeared to be random, because Trent was not robbed. Townsend was identified as one of two boys seen running from the scene in security video from a nearby business.

Police said the second boy implicated Townsend, who they said later confessed. Townsend was on probation at the time on a previous arrest for burglary.

Assistant State Attorney Alan Mizrahi said not taking the case to trial was in the best interest of the state.

"We had discussions with the victim's family, and not having to go to trial and the appeal and to do right by the defendant -- all those things combined to make the plea appropriate," Mizrahi said.

Townsend faces 10 to 40 years in prison. He will be sentenced on Aug. 22. Because Townsend is a juvenile, if he is sentenced to more than 25 years, the sentence will be reviewed.

Townsend's attorney said Tuesday that he will present arguments at the sentencing hearing explaining why Townsend should not serve 40 years.

Townsend's family was in the courtroom Tuesday and was visibly upset about the plea deal.

Judge Jack Schemer asked Townsend during the hearing if he had discussed his intention to plead guilty with his mother. He said he had. When Schemer asked if she approved of the deal, she responded from the gallery, "No, your honor."

Townsend said he decided to plead guilty despite his family's objections.

"The State Attorney’s Office did not have contact with the defendant's family, only on the night he was interviewed by the Sheriff's Office," Mizrahi said. "That is something you will have to ask the defense attorney. However, I think they were just upset that their son was going to prison."

Townsend's family declined to comment after the hearing.

The Department of Corrections has a special prison for juveniles, where Townsend will be housed with other minors until he turns 18. At that point, he will go into the adult population.

City's notorious teen killers

Townsend's case has disturbed many because of his age and the lack of motive in the killing.

I-TEAM: Looking into Jacksonville's notorious teen killers

"All crime bothers me. It really doesn't matter the age of the defendant," Mizrahi said. "However, it is disturbing when a child commits a violent crime like this."

Jacksonville has had several notable young killers, ranging in age from 12 years old to 17 years old.

Some of the teens killed strangers, some killed friends and others were convicted of killing relatives.

The city's most notorious young killer is Cristian Fernandez, who was 12 years old when he killed his 2-year-old half brother. Fernandez was the youngest person in the Jacksonville area to be charged as an adult with first-degree murder. Fernandez will remain in jail until his 19th birthday, followed by eight years of probation.

Mitchell Daughtry was only 14 years old when police say he stabbed his own mother to death. She was found dead in her kitchen with multiple stab wounds. Police said after the murder Daughtry stole the family's SUV and headed south. He was arrested in Miami and was briefly held for psychiatric evaluation after attempting suicide. He pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial, as an adult. 

Jeremiah Hill pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Tony Johnson during a gun transaction when Hill was 13 years old. Hill was recently sentenced to 40 years in prison. His cousin and a third suspect are awaiting trial. 

Morgan Leppert was convicted of killing a disabled Melrose man, who was born without hands and was hard of hearing. Police said Leppert, who was 15 at the time, staked out her victim with her boyfriend before fleeing with him to Texas. It took a jury only 90 minutes to convict her. She was sentenced to life in prison, but was recently re-sentenced to allow parole chances.

Connor Pridgen and Charles Southern admitted they murdered their classmate Makia Coney, simply because they wanted to know what it felt like to kill. Police say Southern shot Coney in the back of the head before Pridgen, who was 17 at the time, took the gun and shot her in the face at point blank range. Less than 30 minutes after the murder, they were caught on school surveillance cameras laughing and joking as they walked down a hallway. They were both sentenced to life in prison

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.