ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – It’s been nearly a year since the brutal murder of 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey in St. Johns County. She was found dead May 9, 2021 -- on Mother’s Day.
She was stabbed to death, and the discovery of her body and the arrest of her schoolmate, Aiden Fucci, the next day rocked Northeast Florida.
The now 15-year-old Fucci, who is charged with first-degree murder in Bailey’s death, appeared in court again Thursday, ahead of his scheduled November murder trial. He has pleaded not guilty.
Fucci’s appearance has changed several times over the last year. He now has a buzz cut, and mostly kept his head down for Thursday’s proceedings.
Fucci had a private attorney very briefly after his arrest, but he was then declared indigent, meaning he can’t afford to pay for his own lawyer so the court appointed a public defender, meaning taxpayers will pay to defend him.
A new public defender is now taking the lead in his case, and the judge asked if she is up to speed in the case. The attorney was officially assigned to the case this week but said she’s been loosely involved since the beginning and is working to get the necessary depositions scheduled and finished. She said the public defender’s office has 70 to 80 depositions to get through before his trial.
Judge Lee Smith set the next pretrial hearing for June 7.
Once again, Bailey’s family and friends were inside the courtroom gallery wearing aqua, which was her favorite color. They have appeared in solidarity for Bailey during Fucci’s court hearings.
Smith has set the final pretrial hearing date for Oct. 26 and blocked off two weeks for Fucci’s trial: Nov. 7-18.
Fucci was arrested in the early morning hours, the day after deputies found Bailey’s body less than a half-mile from Fucci’s home in the Durbin Crossing community, the neighborhood where Bailey also lived. Investigators said his DNA was on Bailey’s body.
At his hearing in October, the public defender appointed to represent Fucci said he and the prosecutor both have a death penalty trial in March, meaning most depositions in the Fucci case won’t be scheduled until after that. His attorney has not asked for a mental competency evaluation.
Fucci’s behavior during court appearances has varied. A tattoo of a cross was visible on his middle finger at his last hearing.
In October’s pretrial hearing, he seemed alert and didn’t say much. Members of Bailey’s family sat in the audience then too.
Back in September, Fucci looked perplexed and talked about demons during a virtual pretrial hearing.
According to court records, Fucci’s girlfriend told an investigator he would hear voices that would tell him to kill people. Investigators also said Fucci had a notebook that contained violent and Satanic drawings.
“Obviously you’ve got to look at mental health and you’ve got to look at whether he is competent to stand trial,” said LaFonda Middleton, a criminal defense attorney who has represented juveniles.
She said that if this case goes to trial in November because a grand jury indicted him for first-degree murder, he will be treated as an adult, but he is not eligible for the death penalty.
“It doesn’t change his trial or his potential sentence. However, because he is a juvenile, he will come up for review of his sentence once he’s been sentenced as an adult,” explained Middleton, who is not connected with the case.
So, if convicted, in 25 years, Fucci could ask a judge for a lighter sentence. We’ve also seen in the past where high-profile cases have been postponed or moved to another area.
The case against Fucci’s mother, Crystal Smith, on charges of tampering with evidence was also heard for pretial Thursday. Investigators said she washed blood off her son’s blue jeans while he was being questioned.
Smith was not in the courtroom Thursday, but her attorney was. Her next pretrial date was set for Aug. 3.
Fucci is in custody at the Duval County jail while he awaits trial because St. Johns County does not have a juvenile wing in its jail.