ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – After two days of sometimes graphic and often emotional testimony, Judge R. Lee Smith on Friday sentenced 16-year-old Aiden Fucci to life in prison for killing his 13-year-old schoolmate in the early morning hours of Mother’s Day in 2021.
Fucci, who was 14 at the time of the crime, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, admitting to brutally stabbing Tristyn Bailey more than 100 times in the woods at the end of a cul-de-sac in the quiet Durbin Crossing neighborhood.
Judge Smith gave a lengthy explanation Friday while announcing his decision in St. Johns County court.
In his final point, before he pronounced the sentence, Smith said it was particularly troubling that “this crime had no motive.”
“This was not done out of greed. It was not done in retaliation or retribution or revenge. It was not a crime of passion. It was not a crime that was committed because he felt rejected by her. It was not done in a fit of uncontrollable anger. There was no reason. There was no purpose. It was done for no other reason than to satisfy this defendant’s internal desire to feel what it was like to kill someone,” Smith said. “This leads this court to the conclusion that there is only one appropriate sentence in this case.”
UNCUT: Press play below to see Judge Smith’s full explanation of Fucci’s life sentence
Smith also recounted vivid details of Tristyn’s “horrifying death,” including her 49 defensive wounds that meant “she was aware and that she was doing everything she could to fend off this attack.”
RELATED: Tristyn Bailey: The murder that sent shockwaves through St. Johns County
“Her screams were most likely stifled by her own suffocating lungs,” Smith said, adding that using a knife meant the murder was “up close, personal” and “shocking.”
He pointed to the heightened level of premeditation in the murder, referring to statements Fucci made about wanting to take someone into the woods, stab them, kill them and then run away.
“He indicated he was going to kill someone. At which point he determined it was going to be Tristyn Bailey, I don’t know,” Smith said. “But there was going to be a victim.”
READ: Fucci sentencing documents
After the sentencing, State Attorney R.J. Larizza said if Fucci hadn’t been caught, he believes Tristyn would not have been the only victim.
“I am grateful for the life sentence handed down today, and I truly believe that had Fucci avoided arrest and prosecution, he would have killed again. Please keep the Bailey Family in your thoughts and prayers,” he said. “The Bailey Family has suffered tremendously for the last 22 months while experiencing our criminal justice process — a process that is not victim and family-friendly. Our system focuses on the defendant — many times at the expense of the victim/victim’s family.”
Judge Smith said he did think Fucci had shown some ability to modify his behavior but that he placed great weight on the effect Tristyn’s murder had on both her family and the community.
He 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.”
He called the case 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.
But it was even more devastating for 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.”
RELATED: Judge to Tristyn Bailey’s family: Killer’s sentence ‘cannot heal you’
Before sentencing Fucci, Smith addressed Tristyn’s family directly in the courtroom, encouraging them to allow her outgoing 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.”
During a powerfully emotional day in court Wednesday, Tristyn’s loved ones made it very clear they never wanted Fucci released.
Her sister, Alexis (pictured below), 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.”
In the end, Smith agreed, sentencing Fucci to life in prison.
Because of Fucci’s status as a juvenile, he was not eligible for the death penalty, and his sentence will be reviewed in 25 years.
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The only family member who came to speak on Fucci’s behalf during the sentencing hearing this week was his grandmother, who offered a tearful apology to the Bailey family in the gallery and begged the judge not to sentence him to life.
“Please don’t take him out of our lives forever. I know there is some good in Aiden,” she told the judge.
Smith acknowledged Friday that her decision to testify for Fucci “took a lot of courage.”
And after the sentencing, Forrest Bailey, Tristyn’s father, also acknowledged the grandmother’s apology.
“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.”
Fucci’s mother, Crystal Smith, didn’t come to court, instead sending a letter to Judge Smith, asking for mercy and saying “he is not beyond saving.”
Fucci also wrote a letter to the court, saying “I’m sorry for all the pain I caused to the Bailey family. I(’m) sorry to the friends, brothers, sisters, mom, dad and any other family relatives. I’m sorry that you didn’t get to know her that long. You did not have any long relationships with (Tristyn) and for that I’m sorry.”
Forrest Bailey said the family considered Fucci’s letter insincere and “coached.”
Crystal Smith explained in her letter that her attorney had advised her not to come to court in person to speak on Aiden’s behalf. That’s likely because she has her own case pending in St. Johns County court — for tampering with evidence in her son’s case. Investigators said she washed blood off her son’s blue jeans while he was being questioned.
Crystal Smith’s case is set for trial next month.
Because that case is still pending, Tristyn’s family kept their remarks after the sentencing limited to a statement read by Forrest on behalf of “The Bailey 7,” as they’re known.
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.”
Fucci’s lawyer has 30 days to appeal the life sentence. Because he pleaded guilty, Fucci waived a lot of the rights that come with an appeal — like a right to have a jury or challenge a verdict. He can only challenge the sentence if he believes it to be unlawful.
For now, Fucci will remain in the Duval County jail, where he’s been housed until now because St. Johns County’s jail does not have a juvenile facility.
Larizza said when the time comes, Fucci will not be transferred to a Department of Juvenile Justice facility but will instead go directly to a Florida State Prison. According to court documents, Fucci was given credit for 666 days of time served.