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Arrest of 12-year-old brings issue of trying children as adults back to forefront, could put Corey back in spotlight

Posted: July 31, 2014 - 6:02pm  |  Updated: August 1, 2014 - 1:42pm

The arrest of 12-year-old Sharron Sherman Townsend for the murder of a homeless man Thursday could end up putting controversial State Attorney Angela Corey back in the spotlight.

Townsend is the same age Cristian Fernandez was when he was charged as an adult with the first-degree murder of his 2-year-old half brother David Galarraga, a charge that would have put him in jail for life without the possibility of parole if his lawyers hadn’t negotiated a plea deal.

Fernandez, now 15, eventually pleaded guilty as a juvenile to manslaughter. He is set to be released on probation when he turns 19 in January 2018.

The decision to try Fernandez as an adult set off international condemnation, with many saying someone so young shouldn’t be charged as an adult. Corey has said she never wanted to put Fernandez in jail for the rest of his life, but also argued that charging him as an adult was correct based on the “brutal infliction” of injuries found on Galarraga.

Related: 12-year-old arrested in 'horrible, spontaneous' killing of homeless Jacksonville man

Corey spokeswoman Jackelyn Barnard declined to comment Thursday on whether Townsend would be charged as an adult or juvenile, saying it was still an active investigation.

Police said Townsend shot 54-year-old Thomas Zona Trent in the head June 28 on 103rd Street on the Westside. A motive for the shooting has not been released.

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Assistant Chief Chris Butler said police interviewed a 16-year-old friend who was already incarcerated in an armed robbery and motor vehicle theft, which led to Townsend’s arrest Thursday.

Former American Bar Association President and former Florida State University President Sandy D’Alemberte said Corey showed poor judgment in the Fernandez case, and that should be cause for concern with Townsend.

“The fear I have about this news is that the case will be handled by Angela Corey, who has earned the reputation as the Florida prosecutor with the worst judgment and the most warped ideas about justice.” D’Alemberte said. “Her handling of the Fernandez case was so terrible that I do not expect anything from her or her office.”

George “Bob” Dekle, a retired prosecutor who is now a law professor at the University of Florida, said trying juveniles as adult, even someone as young as 12, is sometimes necessary.

Dekle said he has a policy of not criticizing any prosecutor for a charging decision unless the case is a no-brainer.

“And there was nothing about the Fernandez case that was a no-brainer,” Dekle said.

Some crimes that juveniles commit are so horrific that you have to charge them as an adult despite their age.

Dekle said he once prosecuted a 12-year-old as an adult for killing a homeless man. That juvenile was part of a group of children who committed a murder.

University of Miami law professor Tamara Lave said prosecutors need to determine if what the 16-year-old said was credible, and make sure police interviewed him properly.

The issue of whether a police interrogation of Cristian Fernandez was proper became a major issue in his case, with Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper eventually suppressing it after finding that Fernandez neither understood his Miranda warning nor the implication of waiving his constitutional rights.

If prosecutors decide that the 16-year-old is truthful and interviewed properly, they must then decide whether Townsend should be tried as an adult or a child, Lave said.

“Angela Corey should give attention to what age he is,” Lave said. “That’s what the Supreme Court has told her to do.”

The U.S. Supreme Court banned the mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life without the possibility of parole, which is what Cristian Fernandez faced when he was first charged with murder.

The Supreme Court rulings were based on the idea that juveniles are different from adults and function at different stages of brain development.



Times-Union writer Dana Treen contributed to this report.


Larry Hannan: (904) 359-4470

Comments (16)

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TMJAX 08/01/14 - 03:17 pm
Premium Member

FL ss. 985.56 Indictment of a

FL ss. 985.56 Indictment of a juvenile.
—(1) A child of any age who is charged with a violation of state law punishable by death or by life imprisonment is subject to the jurisdiction of the court as set forth in s. 985.0301(2) unless and until an indictment on the charge is returned by the grand jury. When such indictment is returned, the petition for delinquency, if any, must be dismissed and the child must be tried and handled in every respect as an adult:
(a) On the offense punishable by death or by life imprisonment; and
(b) On all other felonies or misdemeanors charged in the indictment which are based on the same act or transaction as the offense punishable by death or by life imprisonment or on one or more acts or transactions connected with the offense punishable by death or by life imprisonment.

Gordon 08/01/14 - 03:11 pm
Premium Member

Other news organizations

Other news organizations clearly label their updates. Why can't the FTU?

gijimbo1313 08/01/14 - 01:53 pm
Premium Member


@Morris.....again.....blaming the government. We need to hold the parents and this kid accountable. I will concede that the government has a part in this but the burden lies with the family. As far as the city ignoring these high crime areas, I can personally attest that that is not what is happening. We always have the option of more prevention programs and law enforcement but who pays for that? I for one am taxed out and am not willing to contribute more of my hard earned cash. The other options are to eliminate pork programs or not to fund other worthwhile causes and infrastructure. I am all for eliminating the pork.

Morris_reader 08/01/14 - 12:40 pm

The fact remains that Cory

The fact remains that Cory overcharges like no other prosecutor in Florida. You cannot deny that.

The fact remains that the US Supreme Court has ruled that teens under 17 are different than adults. You cannot deny that.

The fact remains that unsupervised children living in poverty, surrounded by violence, watching violence every day, are bound to be heavily influenced by that. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure this out. You can pretend to blame the kids but where is the responsibility of the adults around them including the authorities and fake politicians taking our money and promising empty words.

If these neglected neighborhoods with high crime are ignored by the city what do you expect to get out of them, but more violence and an endless cycle of poverty-neglect-crime. The blame needs to go around so that those elected are held responsible for their failure to lead.

Willie_B 08/01/14 - 12:02 pm
Premium Member

Can't help but wonder why the

Can't help but wonder why the JSO had not been notified by the shop managers/owners of the disturbance these teenage thugs were causing in this strip mall.

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