Judge suspends terms of probation for Cristian Fernandez

By Jenese Harris - Reporter/anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A circuit judge agreed Wednesday to shelve the terms of probation for Cristian Fernandez, the Jacksonville teen who was just 12 when he was arrested in the beating death of his 2-year-old half-brother.

Attorneys Hank Coxe and Buddy Schulz, who represent Fernandez, convinced State Attorney Bill Cervone and Circuit Judge David Gooding to hold off on enforcing the conditions of their client’s probation, citing recent developments.

“Circumstances have developed in the past several months which render application of the conditions of probation, both general and special, other than as specified herein, unrealistic and problematic,” Coxe and Schulz wrote in their motion.

COURT DOCUMENTS: Motion to stay conditions of order of probation

The motion went on to say that Fernandez should be placed on probation when he gets out on Monday. But it noted that the unspecified conditions should be imposed once his circumstances change.

Fernandez was not present in court Wednesday. His attorneys spoke on his behalf, but did not go into detail about which conditions of his probation are at issue. They declined comment after the hearing.

A copy of Fernandez’s probationary order sheds some light. Among other things, the order states he must be a part- or full-time student, hold a job and receive counseling. It also limits his contact with former siblings and minors.

Fernandez turns 19 on Sunday. He’s been held at a state-contracted Department of Juvenile Justice facility since 2013 when he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and aggravated battery charges in the case.

At first, Fernandez was charged with first-degree murder in the March 2011 death of 2-year-old half-brother David Galarraga. Galarraga died two days after a beating that saw him lose consciousness after, prosecutors said, his head was repeatedly slammed into a bookshelf.

Then-Public Defender Matt Shirk initially spearheaded Fernandez's defense. But he later caved to pressure to step aside from a high-powered legal team, including Coxe, that ultimately secured a plea deal for Fernandez.

The case changed the way juveniles are prosecuted in Jacksonville. It also became a hot-button issue in the most recent state attorney election, in which incumbent Angela Corey, who charged Fernandez as an adult, was ousted by Melissa Nelson, one of the boy's attorneys.

Because of her involvement in Fernandez's defense, Nelson recused herself from the case. As a result, Gov. Rick Scott tapped Cervone, whose office covers Florida's 8th Judicial Circuit, to oversee the case.

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