Lawyers debate fate of Cristian Fernandez

Trial on sexual battery charges delayed again

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The next step in the prosecution of 13-year-old Cristian Fernandez, who's charged with murder in the death of his 2-year-old half brother, continues to be argued in court.

At a hearing Wednesday , attorneys debated whether the boy understood his rights during the interrogation process after his arrest. Fernandez did not appear in court.

His defense team told the judge a state analyst stepped over the line by trying to ask Fernandez about his discussion with attorneys, saying the boy could not have known legally he didn't have to answer the questions.

On the other hand, the state says that analyst needed to ask specific questions in an attempt to gauge whether or not the boy understood his constitutional rights, a point that both sides feel is important to the case.

"That line of questioning goes directly to the defendant's understanding, his ability to understand his constitutional rights, what a lawyer is, what court is," Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel said.

"'Did you know you had a right to remain silent?' He can certainly inquire about that," defense attorney Hank Coxe said. "'Did you know you had a right to counsel?' He can check the record to see how many times the lawyers came to visit him, but he cannot inquire about the communication he had with those lawyers."

What both sides can agree on is that Fernandez repeatedly denied hurting his brother during a videorecorded interrogation before "relenting."

"Apparently Dr. Meadows thinks he can go into this interview and ask Cristian, 'Did you do it?'" Coxe said.

"If the defendant understood these allegations to be true and he did deny them, then the question is, why did you deny nine times previously? Did you understand it could be used against you in court?" Caliel said.

The other issue on the table is whether or not a psychologist who counseled one of Fernandez's siblings will have to testify during trial, waiving patient privilege rights.

The state says that sibling shared allegations with that doctor that were turned over to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, eventually leading to separate sex charges against Fernandez.

It's up to the judge to determine what the appropriate line of questioning was and if that psychologist will have to testify or not. She will rule by 5 p.m. Monday.

Meanwhile, Fernandez's trial on sexual battery charges, which had been set for June 25, has been postponed again. It's now set for Aug. 27. In that case, Fernandez is accused of molesting his 5-year-old half brother.

The teen's murder trial is still set for Sept 10. His next court date is June 28, the start of a three-day motions hearing that will take up the defense motions to suppress his statements to police in both cases.

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