Friday, December 23, 2011

Cristian Fernandez could become the youngest person in America sentenced to life without parole

If Cristian is convicted as a result of the trial taking place on February 27 of 2012, he will be the youngest person in America to receive a life without parole sentence. Prior to Cristian, the youngest person convicted and sentenced to life was 14 year old Lionel Tate. In 1999, Tate was about six months into his twelfth year when he was charged with murdering a much younger playmate. The conviction was overturned in early 2004.

Cristian Fernandez was born on January 14 of 1999. He was charged with injuring his younger brother, David, on March 15 of 2011. This occurred during the early morning hours. David was receiving treatment for his injuries at the time. Cristian was indicted for murder and aggravated child abuse on June 2 of 2011. He was four and a half months into his twelfth year.

Cristian is not the youngest to face murder charges in adult court, however. Jordan Brown was 11 years old when he was charged with the murder of his father's fiance and her unborn son. His case was eventually returned to juvenile court in 2011. Jordan is still awaiting trial in juvenile court due to delays out of his control. Specifically, three media outlets appealed the judge's decision not to open the case to the media. The Pennsylvania Superior Court has yet to rule on this matter.

Cristian's potential status as the youngest person to receive life without parole in America raises some important questions about Florida's treatment of juveniles in the criminal justice system. Lionel Tate was also charged and convicted in the state of Florida. Tate was offered a plea deal that involved serving three years in a juvenile facility for second degree murder. The plea arrangement also required Tate to receive probation for ten years. His mother rejected the plea deal, hoping that he would be acquitted in court. He was not.

A profound similarity between Lionel Tate's case and that of Cristian Fernandez is the exploitation of the felony murder rule. This rule is extremely controversial because it requires juries to convict without the prosecution proving premeditation for the murder piece of the charge. As of 2008, 46 states still had felony murder provisions contained within their statutes.

When Tate was convicted and given the mandatory sentence in Florida of life without parole, those present in the courtroom were stunned. It appeared that few people realized a life without parole sentence would be the consequence if he was convicted.

It is difficult to fathom why the felony murder rule still exists, or at least why there is no legislation preventing prosecutors from using this rule to overcharge juveniles. A number of states have eliminated the felony murder rule. These states include Kentucky, Hawaii, and Michigan. It is important to note that Florida includes a much longer list of crimes within these statutes, expanding the reach of the legislation and increasing the damage it can potentially cause.

One of the ways to prevent children like Cristian from receiving life without parole sentences is to target the laws enabling prosecutors to achieve these results. Direct filing processes are another contributor to the problem.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Did Angela Corey mislead the public about Cristian Fernandez case?

The tragic saga otherwise known as the Cristian Fernandez case approached a new level of injustice on Friday when Florida Judge William Wilkes denied the defense's most recent motion. The defense was trying to block State Attorney Angela Corey's attempt to indict Cristian on another charge.

Corey is known throughout the Jacksonville community for her lock-the-kids-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach to juvenile crime in Florida.

In 2010, the Florida Times Union reported that the number of juvenile felony cases tried in adult court had doubled under the reign of Corey. Though some might argue this approach is effective in solving the community's persistent crime problem, numerous studies paint a very different picture. In 2009, the University of Texas at Austin released a comprehensive analysis of the practice of trying children as adults. The authors of the study wrote, "The practice of treating children as adults for criminal justice purposes also poses serious risk to the individual child. The research unequivocally shows that children prosecuted as adults are more likely to re-offend and to pose a threat to society."

In the past, Corey has claimed that it was never her intention to subject 12 year old Cristian Fernandez to life in prison. She expressed confidence that the State Attorney's office and the public defenders office would reach a plea deal. The defense rejected the plea deal because it required Cristian to carry a murder conviction on his record for the rest of his life - something that would seriously inhibit his ability to find employment or a place to live upon release. Another problem with the plea deal is that it exposed Cristian to possibly having to serve three of the last years of the sentence in an adult prison.

Though Corey informed the public and the media she never intended for Cristian to serve a sentence of life in prison, a trial date for Cristian was subsequently set for February 27 of 2012. If convicted, the mandatory sentence is life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Due to Corey's recent handling of this case, an advocate for Cristian started a petition to remove Angela Corey from office.

But that's not all...

In response to the defense's rejection of the State Attorney's plea, Angela Corey informed the media that she would be seeking an additional indictment for the alleged sexual molestation of one of Cristian's sibling. According to a brief made available by the Florida Times Union, Corey knew about this allegation earlier this year. She has made no effort to seek an indictment on this charge until now. The timing is highly suspicious in light of Corey's statements and behavior relating to this entire case.

Corey has claimed the additional indictment for Cristian was necessary to protect the victim. The question is: why didn't the victim matter in March and April of this year?

Cristian has an extensive history of physical and sexual abuse that is well documented. The Florida system has failed Cristian and his siblings in countless ways. Corey continues to contribute to this egregious failure by making it her personal mission to destroy Cristian's life and rob him of any chance at rehabilitation in the juvenile system. The kicker of this recent ruling is that the judge is not requiring the grand jury hear about Cristian's background and the factors contributing to the events in this case. An appeal of that ruling is almost certainly guaranteed.

Angela Corey's efforts to mislead the public did not stop with her claim she was never seeking life in prison for Cristian. On December 12, Corey made the following erroneous statement to the media: "In the juvenile system, we can only incarcerate or have him contained for not even two years, and that is not an option to protect the community.  However, we understand at his young age he deserves a chance at rehabilitation. The plea deal we have offered would combine those two things."

This false and inaccurate statement did not go unnoticed, however. In response to this claim, the Southern Poverty Law Center, released a statement in an attempt to set the record straight. In the statement they referred to Corey's claim by saying, "This is just not true." The statement went on to add: "Florida law grants the juvenile system broad discretion to handle the treatment and rehabilitation of children like Cristian, including the power to detain a child as long as necessary to protect public safety." The statement contained additional information about the ability of the juvenile justice system to treat and rehabilitate Cristian.

So why did Angela Corey mislead the public? Why is she making false statements to the media? More importantly, why is the media printing this information without providing readers with the facts?

Why is Corey so bent on destroying one boy's life and placing the public in harms way at a later date because of her actions?

We may never know...However, if you're curious perhaps you can give Corey a call or shoot her an email to inquire about it. Be careful not to take what she says at face value though. As you can see from her past actions, she does not always provide all of the facts.

Angela Corey's phone number: 904-630-2400
Angela Corey's email:

The Strange Case of Josh Young

Josh Young of Louisville, Kentucky is 15 years old and potentially facing life in prison without parole for his alleged role in the murder of his 14 year old brother, Trey Zwicker.

On May 11 of 2011, the body of Trey Zwicker was found in a ditch around 1pm in the afternoon. He was discovered by a group of students behind a local school. The police reported no solid leads as to what happened to Trey. His father, Terry Zwicker, made a plea in the media, stating, "somebody knows something."

Nearly a month passed with little word in the media about the events surrounding Trey's murder. However, on June 12, the media issued a report regarding an emergency protective order taken out by Trey's mother against her live-in boyfriend, Josh Gouker. Details contained within the protection order were released to the public, including the claim that Trey's mother feared "for her daughter's life" and that Josh Gouker was "suspected in her son's murder".

Two days following the release of this information, the media reported that Josh Gouker and his 15 year old son, Josh Young, were missing. An amber alert was issued for the younger Josh as the police and members of the public suspected the two had fled the state.

On June 17, Gouker and his son were reportedly found in Alabama. A man who claimed to know Gouker told the media that the man was "running for his life...he knows he's guilty." Suspicion swirled around Gouker in reference to Trey's homicide as the man had lived with Trey and his mother for a period of time following his release from prison. Despite having a lengthy criminal record, Gouker obtained custody of his son shortly before the murder. Josh had spent a significant amount of time in foster care prior to returning to his father's care.

On June 22, more information was released about the activities of Gouker in Alabama. Josh and his father were arrested on weapons charges and Gouker faced a kidnapping charge in reference to his having held a woman at gunpoint, forcing her to drive to a hotel.

The following day the media reported that 15 year old Josh Young had been arrested for the murder of Trey Zwicker. The public was shocked at the unexpected turn of events and anticipated that Josh's father would be arrested for the murder as well. He was never arrested in connection with the crime. Moreover, the prosecution has not yet released any information about why Josh was charged or what evidence was obtained to suggest his involvement.

Gouker was held in Alabama on charges stemming from June until he was released in September. Information spread that he was released by mistake, but officials denied this occurred. Gouker was again taken into custody in Kentucky in October. He was held based on a felony fugitive warrant.

In November of 2011, Josh was indicted on charges of murder and evidence tampering. Because the indictment took place through a grand jury the public had no access to any of the evidence the prosecution allegedly had against the 15 year old. However, Josh's attorney informed the media that the grand jury refused to hear testimony in support of the boy, suggesting the hearing was anything but impartial.

In late November, Josh was formally arraigned on charges in adult criminal court. Gouker's mother, Josh's grandmother, told the media that it was her son who committed the murder. She revealed startling information that her son had confessed to her about the murder shortly after it happened.

The Assistant Commonwealth Attorney, Elizabeth Jones Brown, countered Gouker's mother's claim by saying the police had investigated the case thoroughly.

Further information about Gouker's possible motive for committing the murder was contained in a statement by his mother. "Jessie says her grandson, better known as Little Josh, was set up by her son Gouker, better known as Big Josh. She says Gouker admitted to her that he killed his stepson right after it happened to get back at his mother. 'Him and Amanda were having really bad problems. She aborted two of his kids in 2000 and one of their marriages and he felt like it was a child for a child."

To date the prosecution has not released the evidence they have against Josh Young. They have not given any explanation about why his father, Josh Gouker, was not arrested in connection with the murder.

A petition urging the prosecution to further examine the potential involvement of Josh Gouker in the murder of Trey Zwicker may be found here. The petition also asks that 15 year old Josh Young be tried as a juvenile instead of an adult.