ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A judge announced Friday that he is giving Aiden Fucci’s defense team more time to prepare for trial in a case that is sure to garner daily attention when it finally hits a courtroom.
Fucci, the St. Johns County teenager accused of killing 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey, is now slated to stand trial for her brutal murder in February.
Judge Lee Smith announced a decision on that and several other motions the teen’s attorney had filed in the case during a hearing on Friday.
Fucci 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 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.
TIMELINE: The investigation into Tristyn Bailey’s disappearance and death
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.
Fucci’s public defender, Rosemarie Peoples, filed a motion late last month, asking to move her client’s trial to next year because she needs more time to talk to witnesses and work on the case. The trial had been slated for November.
Peoples is also 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.
“The defense is in trial in Putnam County which would interfere with our ability to get the remaining depositions done for the trial. The Putnam County case is taking up the month of October and then a good portion of September,” Peoples said.
Smith granted Peoples’ motion Friday, pushing the trial date back for Fucci’s case, and saying this shouldn’t be a problem in the future.
“I wanted to just also make sure that everyone understands there should not be any conflict anywhere in this circuit for any other trials. I have spoken to the chief judge; this case will have priority over any other trial in our circuit -- other than obviously the one you’re dealing with in Putnam County,” Smith said.
Bailey’s family released a statement after the judge’s decision:
With this morning’s decision on the continuance, we now set our eyes toward a February trial. While we’re disappointed we have to continue to wait, our hearts go out to the loved ones of the Putnam County victims for their day in court. We take solace in this morning’s proceedings for the clarity that all parties involved are making efforts to ensure everything is done correctly during trial.
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Peoples had filed multiple other motions, most of which revolve around evidence and the high-profile nature of the case.
Peoples’ request that the court bar the state’s more than 150 witnesses from discussing the case with anyone other than attorneys was denied, along with a motion that sought to prohibit emotional outbursts in the courtroom.
In that motion, Peoples wrote, “the decedent’s family may create a spectacle that draws the attention of jurors.”
Peoples withdrew requests that news media and the public be barred from future pre-trial hearings and that cameras be kept out of jury selection. News outlets, including News4JAX, had been prepared to fight those motions in court Friday.
Another motion about whether to allow autopsy and other “defined photos” will be discussed later, Judge Smith decided.
READ: Motions to be considered during Friday’s hearing
Earlier this week, a report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said a portion of a knife recovered from Bailey’s body matched one that was pulled from a lake by investigators. Belkis Plata, a defense attorney not affiliated with the case, says the public release of evidence could give Fucci’s defense team more ammunition if they request a change of venue.
“I saw the survey that the defense attorney sent out,” Belkis said. “Trying to find out who in this community knows about this. I think everybody knows about it.”
As the case moves forward, Tristyn Bailey’s family still grieves. Last week, a family member wrote on social media:
“Such a hard day … as this week you would have started high school. All of the milestones we thought you would have accomplished have been taken away. Gut wrenching.”
Fucci is being held in the Duval County jail in Jacksonville while he awaits his trial because St. Johns County’s jail does not have a juvenile wing.