ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A judge expects to make a ruling at a future court hearing on a request to delay the trial of Aiden Fucci, the St. Johns County teenager accused of killing 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey.
Fucci appeared for a court hearing Friday morning when Judge Lee Smith made that announcement.
Fucci’s attorney, Rosemarie Peoples, filed a motion late last month, asking to move her client’s November trial to next year because she needs more time to talk to witnesses and work on the case.
“The state had listed over 200 witnesses,” the public defender said at Friday’s hearing. “I don’t anticipate I would be able to get it all done at once by the November trial date.”
Plus, the defense said, it’s working on a death penalty case that is scheduled to go to trial in September. That case involves Mark Wilson Jr., who’s accused of killing his girlfriend’s two nephews with a hammer and a knife in August 2020.
“We’re three months away. Why, at this point, file a motion? Why not wait until we get a little bit closer to trial to see if those depositions can be taken and accomplished and get a little closer to that point before we continue it now?” the judge asked the public defender.
She responded, “So the defense is involved in other cases that do take a tremendous amount of the calendar time.”
The judge asked Fucci’s attorney if she’d be ready for a February trial, and she cautiously said yes.
“My inclination is to hold off ruling on this motion at this time until we have a little clearer picture,” the judge said. “What I don’t want to get into is we start snowballing cases and have to start continuing them, we’re just chasing our tail. That’s my concern.”
Smith said that he wanted to think about this more before ruling on the motion and that he will make a ruling at the next court hearing on Aug. 19.
“It’s certain that it’s going to be early 2023,” the judge said. “And I want to know that there’s no other conflicts or no other cases that are going to be conflicting with this case.”
Bailey’s mother posted on social media after the hearing, saying she can’t wait any longer.
“You want me to wait until 2023 for a trial because you are not ready? I just can’t… I am broken mentally and physically. Not really sure how much we are expected to take!” she wrote, in part.
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The request by Fucci’s attorney to delay the trial isn’t surprising. She signed on to the case just in the last few months. In the motion to request delaying the trial, she said more than 250 witnesses are involved in the case. She said that if she doesn’t have enough time, they will lose the case.
In the motion, she wrote: “With no fault to Aiden Fucci, the defense team cannot announce ready for trial this calendar year, because the defense case is not developed to meet the standards of effective counsel.”
Shannon Schott, an attorney not affiliated with the case, said it is common for a public defender to ask to push back a trial three months away.
“It’s super common to ask for continuances, and it’s certainly not something done nefariously,” Schott told New4JAX on Friday.
Schott said the state of Florida gets six months to prosecute someone.
“What we saw in 2020 when all of these very complex cases were delayed is that we’re still dealing with the backlog from COVID and from courthouses shutting down,” Scott said. “They’re simply prioritizing the older cases because those defendants have been waiting longer. Those witnesses and victims have been waiting longer.”
TIMELINE: The investigation into Tristyn Bailey’s disappearance and death
Fucci, now 15, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Bailey, his schoolmate. She was found stabbed to death on Mother’s Day last year in the Durbin Crossing, less than a half-mile from Fucci’s home in the neighborhood, where Bailey also lived. He was arrested in the early morning hours the next day.
Fucci is being tried as an adult, although he was 14 at the time of his arrest. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. As a juvenile when the offense occurred, he is not eligible for the death penalty.
His attorney also filed a separate motion last month invoking his constitutional rights, including his right to stay silent and his right to counsel.
He’s being held in the Duval County jail in Jacksonville while he awaits his trial.
Survey asks for St. Johns County resident’s input on case
This week, several people living in St. Johns County were emailed surveys from the public defender’s office with questions about the murder case.
The message states:
“Dear St. Johns Resident,
“We need your input on a current murder case in St. Johns County, Florida. You are receiving this invitation to participate because you are a registered voter in this jurisdiction. The survey takes less than 15 minutes to complete and will help us understand the community impact of this particular violent crime.
“Thank you very much!”
News4JAX asked Schott about this.
“I’ve never seen a survey like this, I’ve never been aware of a survey like this, but I think it’s an excellent use of technology to save the community time and resources to figure out who is going to be disqualified from serving as a juror,” Schott said.
It’s unclear how many people received the survey, but Bailey’s mother said in her social media post on Friday that she was one of them.
“I wonder how the defense had the audacity to send a survey to me on the murder of my child??? Are you kidding me??? Is that even allowed? Didn’t you taint the jury pool by putting a survey out there? If they didn’t’ know about Tristyn’s case I’m sure they looked it up by now by your pointed questions!” the post reads, in part.
News4JAX called the public defender’s office, asking why Bailey’s mother received the survey and its intentions for the survey results but was told the office would not comment.
Fucci’s attorney has not officially filed a motion for a venue change for his trial but has expressed interest considering the case has gained national attention.
Schott said the survey results could influence the possibility of a venue change.
“In order to be qualified to serve as a juror in this case, you have to come with fairness and impartiality, and if you’ve already informed an opinion or if you already have information the case that might not be admissible in trial, then you’re not the right juror for this case,” Schott said.
The link to the survey no longer works.