Judge: Aiden Fucci will stay in Duval County jail, murder trial will stay in St. Johns County -- for now

Judge says he’ll reconsider changing venue for trial in Tristyn Bailey’s murder if impartial jury can’t be seated

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Aiden Fucci’s defense team suffered two blows Tuesday when a St. Johns County judge denied a motion to move the teen out of the Duval County jail and also opted not to change the venue for the murder trial -- at least not yet.

Judge R. Lee Smith said he would revisit the decision to possibly move the trial out of the area if an impartial jury could not be found.

Fucci is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his schoolmate, 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey, who was found brutally 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. Fucci was arrested in the early morning hours the next day.

Tristyn Bailey

In a third motion, Fucci’s defense had requested that prosecutors be compelled to release all mitigating discovery in the case. That motion was granted by Smith after the state said it was already in the process of doing that.

Jury selection is expected to begin Feb. 6 and is projected to last three or four days.

Not moving the trial

Fucci’s attorneys argued in their motion for a change of venue for the trial that their client cannot get a fair trial in the Seventh Judicial Circuit, which encompasses St. Johns, Flagler, Putnam and Volusia counties. The attorneys also said an impartial jury can’t be found in any of the neighboring counties in the region.

One reason they listed was pretrial publicity. The attorneys wanted the trial moved to an alternate Florida county.

Fucci’s defense team said St. Johns County Sheriff Rob Hardwick’s words carry great weight with area residents. During the course of the investigation, Hardwick called Bailey’s killing a “cold-blooded murder.”

In the change of venue motion, Fucci’s lawyers also noted the community’s involvement from the time Bailey was reported missing. Fucci’s lawyers said the community was involved in the search for her when an Amber Alert was issued and has since held “at least 9 separate memorials, several vigils, and various remembrances...” for Bailey, “...all with light blue or teal... decorations,” which were Bailey’s favorite color.

Throughout the community to this day, there are teal ribbons in remembrance of Bailey on display at restaurants, businesses and mailboxes.

To this day, the court filing reads “...to each court hearing, family and members of the community appear in the light blue or teal colored clothing.”

Fucci’s attorneys also pointed to State Attorney R. J. Larizza’s public statements about the case, as another reason to move the trial.

When it was revealed that Bailey was stabbed over 100 times, Larizza publicly said that the violence pointed to a planned attack.

“The bottom line is that premeditation could be inferred, certainly from just the sheer number of stab wounds that Tristyn Bailey had to suffer,” Larizza said. “Every time that arm went down, that was premeditation.”

Not moving Fucci

The other request by Fucci’s defense team that was denied on Tuesday was to move Fucci out of the Duval County jail. He’s been housed there pending his trial because the jail in St. Johns County does not have a juvenile wing.

His defense team submitted documents listing more than two dozen reasons why he should be moved to a different jail while he awaits trial.

One of the reasons listed included claims that the teen has been kept in some form of solitary confinement.

His attorneys said he’s alone in a cell 24 hours a day and is denied access to any form of group recreation either indoor or outdoor and that he’s also not allowed out of his cell to eat meals.

A large reason for this is due to the threats that the 15-year-old has been receiving from within the jail.

In a motion filed by Hardwick’s attorneys, the St. Johns County Sheriff argued that he did not want the teen to change jails, saying he lost the right to choose where he’s held when he was indicted by a grand jury for first-degree murder.

About the Authors:

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter