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