ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Editor’s note: This article contains details that some might find graphic in nature. Discretion is advised.
The murder trial of Aiden Fucci, the teen accused of killing his 13-year-old St. Johns County schoolmate Tristyn Bailey, is set to start next week.
Preparations were underway Friday at the St. Johns County Courthouse for jury selection, which is slated to begin Monday. Different media outlets could be seen setting up inside the courtroom.
Circuit Judge Lee Smith told both sides to have their jury instructions in by 5 p.m.
Seating an impartial jury will be the focus next week, and that could be a challenge, as a lot of eyes are on this case. The judge previously said he will reconsider moving the trial out of the area if an impartial jury cannot be found.
Bailey was found stabbed to death on May 9, 2021, Mother’s Day, in Durbin Crossing, less than a half-mile from Fucci’s home in the neighborhood where Bailey also lived.
Fucci, who was 14 at the time, was arrested in the early morning hours of the next day.
That same month, State Attorney R.J. Larizza announced that Fucci would be tried as an adult on a charge of first-degree murder. Larizza said that investigators located DNA evidence from Fucci on Bailey’s body and that Bailey’s DNA was also found on shoes belonging to Fucci that were found in his bedroom.
According to Larizza, investigators also learned from witnesses that Fucci made “statements to several people that he was going to kill someone.”
“He didn’t say who that was, but he indicated to witnesses that he was going to kill someone by taking them in the woods and stabbing them, which are certainly the facts of this case,” Larizza said in late May 2021.
A blade tip found in Bailey’s body originated from a knife that was discovered in a retention pond near the location where her body was found, according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report.
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Fucci’s mother, Crystal Smith, was arrested in June 2021 on a charge of with tampering with evidence. Investigators said she washed blood off her son’s blue jeans while he was being questioned.
In August 2021, home surveillance videos were released showing Fucci and Bailey walking through the neighborhood and then only Fucci returning home.
In September 2021, Fucci is seen during a pre-trial Zoom hearing looking around in confusion and muttering. At one point, he can be heard talking about demons, saying, “Please don’t let the demons take my soul. The demons are going to take my soul away.”
In May 2022, Rosemarie Peoples takes on Fucci’s case. She filed several motions, including requesting photos of Bailey’s autopsy not be shown to the jury and cameras not be allowed in the courtroom during jury selection.
In June, News4JAX obtained discovery materials, including emails, in the case. One email includes details from Fucci’s friend about the hours surrounding the cheerleader’s death. That email consisted of bullet points of what Fucci’s friend told deputies. According to the documents, the email shows he said Fucci became infuriated. What he was infuriated about was redacted in the email. It goes on to say that Bailey was threatened with a knife because of jealousy and Fucci mentioned several times he wanted to kill someone in the woods. Fucci’s friend also told the deputy he believes the killing was “100% premeditated,” according to the documents.
Fucci has been in the Duval County jail because the St. Johns County jail does not have a juvenile wing, but toward the end of last year, the defense files a motion asking for him to be transferred out of Jacksonville’s jail. The document notes that Fucci “has been in a form of solitary confinement” for over 400 days, with exceptions where he was in the general population for 129 days.
The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office filed a response to the request by Fucci’s defense for him to be removed from the Duval County jail. In a motion filed by St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick’s attorneys, Hardwick argues 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 on a charge of first-degree murder.
Just last month, News4JAX obtained jail reports from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office showing Fucci has gotten into a fight and has threatened to kill inmates, corrections officers and their families. One inmate told police, “He says he real because he stabs a b**** face to face and take, they life, it’s like he get high off it or something.”
The trial was already delayed once. Now, the defense is fighting for a 12-person jury, which could delay the trial again.
Smith on Wednesday denied a motion filed earlier in the day by Fucci’s defense attorney, asking for a delay of his trial and saying she is appealing the judge’s order for a six-member jury to the Fifth District Court of Appeal.
It centers around the judge’s decision last month to grant the state’s motion for a six-member jury and reject Fucci’s defense attorney’s motion for a 12-member jury.
In the motion for continuance, Fucci’s lawyer states the Fifth DCA has requested a response from the attorney general in 20 days, with a deadline of Feb. 20, and allowed an additional 10 days for the defendant to file a reply, according to the motion for continuance.
The petition for writ filed Tuesday with the Fifth DCA backs up the defense argument that Fucci has a right to a 12-person jury because this is a capital first-degree murder trial.
During a pretrial hearing Wednesday afternoon, Fucci’s lawyer argued the issue is going to be taken up by the Fifth DCA, so the stay should be granted.
The state noted the Fifth DCA did not issue what’s called a “show cause” order, which would have halted the trial.
The defense lawyer acknowledged it was a mistake by her not to file that writ as an emergency. It is unclear whether she will.
The judge said that for the Fifth DCA to accept the writ as an emergency, it would have to certify a conflict with existing law. That would land the argument before the Florida Supreme Court, which would mean an extensive delay in the trial. The judge said that was unacceptable.
Smith said there is no harm that would prevent the court from having the trial. But the defense said that having a six-person jury departs from law requirements and that the harm to their client cannot be remedied on appeal.
If convicted, Fucci could spend the rest of his life in prison. As a juvenile when the offense occurred, he is not eligible for the death penalty.