ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Minutes before he sentenced Tristyn Bailey’s killer to life in prison Friday, Judge R. Lee Smith warned Tristyn’s family in court that “no matter what sentence this court imposes today, it cannot heal you.”
He said the loss her family had suffered was unimaginable and that the sentence could not provide them closure or bring Tristyn back.
WATCH: Press play above to watch Judge Smith’s full address to Tristyn Bailey’s family
The 13-year-old was killed in the early morning hours of Mother’s Day in 2021 by Aiden Fucci, who was 14 at the time. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, admitting to brutally stabbing Tristyn more than 100 times in the woods at the end of a cul-de-sac in the quiet Durbin Crossing neighborhood.
Smith offered advice to Tristyn’s family during court Friday, before he began his lengthy explanation of his sentence for Fucci.
He told her family they still have a lot of healing to do.
“My advice to you is simply this: understand that the healing process takes time. You have to move through the stages and you have to allow each other to move through the stages at your own pace,” Smith said, as Tristyn’s parents held each other in the gallery and her mother held back sobs. “Comfort each other but understand some of you may reach different phases of this healing process sooner than others.”
RELATED: ‘This crime had no motive’: Aiden Fucci sentenced to life in murder of Tristyn Bailey
He told them to allow Tristyn’s vivacious spirit to live on through them.
“Allow Bailey Sunday Fundays to return to your home. Allow laughter to return to your home because in depriving yourselves of that, frankly, it would continue to victimize Tristyn,” Smith said. “It’s not what she would want. She would want that happiness and laughter to return and the joking between her siblings, that’s what she would truly want.”
He also encouraged them not to give in to anger.
“You have to try to let go of some of the anger that you still feel,” Smith said. “I think that’s a big part of this process for you.”
He told them he appreciated their patience with the process, as they waited more than 22 months for justice for Tristyn.
“That can be frustrating, That can be agonizing at times. But we strive to make sure we get things right the first time and that we do things the proper way,” Smith said.
During his explanation of Fucci’s sentence, Smith again spoke to the devastating effect the teen’s death had on her family members.
“There is no greater loss than the loss of one’s own child. The nature and circumstances of her death have caused an even greater trauma on her loved ones,” Smith said. “Her siblings, parents and extended family members all provided compelling victim impact statements, relating their personal struggles with coping with her death.”
Matt Hinson, the family’s attorney, shared what their next chapter could look like.
“They really want to focus on her life, and her legacy. Not just what we’ve been dealing with here for the last week with sentencing,” Hinson said.
Hinson says the agonizing days in court will be key-- when Aiden Fucci’s case comes up for review.
“It’s important to have that record laid out, just like it is for prosecutors to put forth a very strong record of the evidence so that whoever is going to review it, they’ll have a good understanding of what occurred here in St. Johns County,” Hinson said.
During a powerfully emotional day in court Wednesday, Tristyn’s loved ones made it very clear they never wanted Fucci released.
Her sister, Alexis, began the day by methodically dropping 114 heart-shaped, aqua-colored stones into an empty jar on the witness stand.
“One for each of the 114 stab wounds that my sister had to endure,” she said.
At the end of each of their testimonies, Tristyn’s loved ones dropped a white, heart-shaped stone on top of the jar filled with aqua stones. As they added their white stone, they shared what it represented to them -- something Fucci had taken from them when he killed Tristyn.
UNCUT: Press play below to watch victim impact statements from Tristyn Bailey’s siblings:
Tristyn’s mother, Stacy, pleaded with the judge on behalf of her youngest child and her family.
“Aiden Fucci made a heinous decision on May 9, 2021, and took the very life that I brought into this world,” she said. “Please do not for one second think that he could be rehabilitated at any point. He is beyond saving.”
RELATED: ‘He is beyond saving’: Tristyn Bailey’s family asks for maximum sentence for killer in emotional hearing | Closing arguments made in Aiden Fucci’s trial; judge to determine whether he gets life | ‘I’m sorry for all the pain I caused’: Aiden Fucci, relatives write letters to judge, Tristyn Bailey’s family | After 2 days of grim, emotional testimony, what’s next in Aiden Fucci sentencing? | Aiden Fucci’s case draws memories of high profile 1998 murder trial that shook Jacksonville community
In his explanation on Friday, Smith also addressed the effect Tristyn’s murder had on the community, calling it the most difficult and shocking he’s seen in the county in the 30 years he’s lived and worked in Northeast Florida.
“This case is one of only a very small few that had this level of this type of impact on the community,” he said.
Smith said he reviewed all of the more than 150 letters submitted to the court on Tristyn’s behalf.
READ: Letters to Judge Smith 1 | Letters to Judge Smith 2 | Letters to Judge Smith 3 | Letters to Judge Smith 4
“All of them strike a similar chord. This was a devastating crime,” Smith said. “It was devastating to the children of this community. It materially changed an entire community.”
Because a case against Fucci’s mother on a tampering with evidence charge is still pending, Tristyn’s family kept their remarks after the sentencing limited to a statement read by her father, Forrest, on behalf of the family.
RELATED: ‘The right verdict’: Tristyn Bailey’s family reacts to killer’s sentence, offers warning for other families
“We are very appreciative of this outcome and feel that it is the right verdict, considering how heinous the crime is and Aiden’s behavior around it,” Forrest Bailey said. “Today is about focusing on the people who helped deliver justice for our community.”