‘The right verdict’: Tristyn Bailey’s family reacts to killer’s sentence, offers warning for other families

Aiden Fucci sentenced to life in prison in stabbing death of 13-year-old St. Johns County schoolmate

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – “Tristyn, I wanted to let you know we are so extremely proud of the person that you were in your time here.” Forrest Bailey read these words as part of a message to his late daughter after the family witnessed the 13-year-old’s killer being sentenced to life in prison.

Bursts of emotions from Tristyn Bailey’s family filled the courtroom Friday when Aiden Fucci, 16, was sentenced for brutally killing the teenager on Mother’s Day in 2021.

“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.

Tristyn’s father stood at a podium in a white sweatshirt that read “THAT’S MY SQUAD. Tristyn Bailey Strong” with a teal ribbon near his heart while he read a statement Friday morning on behalf of “The Bailey 7″ -- as they’re known.

Tristyn Bailey's loved ones wore matching shirts in court on Friday. (WJXT)

He was at a news conference after the sentencing. Behind him stood members of the Seventh Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, his wife, Stacy, and others who surrounded him with support, including St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick.

He opened his address by thanking those who had a part in the case for their time and effort. He thanked the community for their continuous support and God for providing the strength the family needed to get through the ordeal of the sentencing. He also expressed other issues that they had to endure during the past 22 months of court proceedings.

RELATED: Judge to Tristyn Bailey’s family: Killer’s sentence ‘cannot heal you’

“Today is about focusing on the people who helped deliver justice for our community,” Tristyn’s father said. “And I want to keep the focus on that.”

Family has harsh words for Tristyn Bailey's killer

Warning for families

Fucci, who was 14 at the time of the crime, 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.

RELATED: Tristyn Bailey: The murder that sent shockwaves through St. Johns County

“As has come out through the proceedings, Aiden Fucci did not even have Tristyn’s contact information until the evening before he killed her. While we have gotten to a point where children are carrying technology for convenience and safety to contact their parents and their friend when needed, it comes at great risk,” Forrest said, cautioning other families. “It likely would not have made a difference in Tristyn’s case. However, we would be sick to have it happen to any other family.”

Forrest also shared a warning for parents and their children.

“Please, to all the kids, if your parents require you to turn in your cellphones, realize your phone is a privilege, not a right. They are demonstrating love and protection for you,” he urged.

UNCUT: Watch the full post-sentencing news conference below

Addressing apologies

Forrest acknowledged Fucci’s grandmother’s testimony this week, when she offered a tearful apology to the Bailey family from the witness stand.

“Your apology on the stand really touched us,” he said. “It was the first time anyone in your family had acknowledged it, and we feel for you, as we can tell how much you are hurting.”

He also addressed Fucci’s apology letter to his family, saying they weren’t buying it.

“With respect to the apology letter from Aiden, from his behavior at court at no point has his actions fell in line with the letter, and I believe it is due to the coaching from the defense with respect to the legal process that takes time,” he said.

He called the defense’s comment about the family not accepting Fucci’s apology “insensitive.” He even talked about how the defense sent a survey to the community -- including to his wife -- asking for opinions on the murder.

“At no point did they have the common decency to give an apology so I think they should reconsider their high ground before they advise anyone else on apologies,” he said.

Tristyn Bailey's parents share an emotional moment before court on Friday. (WJXT)

As for Fucci’s mother, Crystal Smith, who’s charged with tampering with evidence in the case, Forrest said the family doesn’t accept her apology either.

“I would say if she’s sorry she can start by accepting responsibility,” he said.

His message to Fucci’s family was pointed: “I would remind them that he is still here. They can still see him. They can encourage him to change his behavior.”

He requested that Tristyn’s supporters offer Fucci’s extended family “kindness,” saying that treating them “poorly” doesn’t align with Tristyn’s spirit or memory.

“They should be given grace for the pain they are going through. They should not be given additional hardship,” he said.

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

Message for the community

At the news conference, State Attorney R.J. Larizza asked everyone to put themselves in the Bailey family’s shoes.

What if this was your daughter, sister, neighbor or friend?

Then he asked how the community can change the mindset of children who are willing to do something so detrimental not only to the victim but to the entire community.

“Young people don’t seem to have respect for life. Aiden Fucci certainly didn’t,” Larizza said. “He said he was going to kill someone. And he did. And now we deal with the aftermath.”

Larizza said the challenge is to get the community to intervene.

Fucci’s friends said he talked about and pre-planned killing someone. They came forward with the information after the murder.

“It all boils down, I believe, to the families and respect for life,” Larizza said. “We seem to have lost that with some of our young folks today.”

Message from the sheriff

Sheriff Hardwick got emotional during the news conference, talking about the bond he and his deputies have formed with the family.

“We together with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, you’re no longer the Bailey 7, you’re the Bailey 927,” he said.

He repeated that sentiment in a lengthy statement following the life sentence:

“On Mother’s Day 2021, The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office got the privilege to meet the Bailey 7. If not for that horrific incident, we wouldn’t be here today. From the moment the call was received, a team came together to work this case comprised of members of our community, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, and the 7th Judicial Circuit’s State Attorney’s Office.

“The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office couldn’t be more grateful for the partnership we have formed with the Bailey Family. They have been patient, respectful, understanding, and truly saw this case all the way through to the end.

“The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office would like to recognize and commend Sergeant Kurt Hannon and Victim Advocate Ashley Mitchell for their diligence and dedication to this case and the Bailey Family. Their resolve for justice has never wavered. We would also like to recognize the efforts of Prosecutors Jennifer Dunton and Mark Johnson. They prepared for this case and were ready to go to trial and win.

“To our community, thank you for your steadfast support of our agency and the Bailey Family. From providing video surveillance to help establish a timeline, to supporting your fellow neighbor, or assisting with search efforts, you all contributed to this case. We thank you for your support and for not only allowing us to do our jobs, but also trusting us.

“The facts and evidence in this case were overwhelming and would have resulted in a guilty verdict regardless thanks to the great work of our Investigative Team in partnership with the prosecution. Today, we finished what we started together and justice was served with a life sentence being handed down to Aiden Fucci.

“To the Bailey Family, you are no longer the Bailey 7. You are the Bailey 927 together with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. This agency will forever be connected to the Bailey Family and this community will forever be #BaileyStrong.”

Sheriff Robert Hardwick

Message for Tristyn

Tristyn’s father closed the family’s statement on Friday by sharing a message to his late daughter:

“We have seen that when you went out into the world you gave it your very best. You should be proud of the friend that you were, the teammate that you were and what you left behind,” he said through tears. “And the people that knew you that we trust will go forward and continue to make the world a better place. With respect to what you mean to our family, it’s in our hearts. There are no words. We love you. We will continue to hold you in our hearts, and we will always be the Bailey 7.”

He also said the family plans to share more about how they are going to celebrate Tristyn’s life to create a lasting legacy.

About the Authors:

As a proud alumnus of Bethune-Cookman University, Kendra is a Jacksonville native, who loves all things lifestyle-related.

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.