Curtis Jones and his sister, Catherine Jones, both nearly thirty years old, are set to leave Florida’s prison system this summer after nearly two decades. Back in 1999, at ages 12 and 13 respectively, Curtis and Catherine became the youngest people in the U.S. to be charged as adults for first-degree murder.
As our Palm Beach and Broward County juvenile defense attorneys know, the two were caught up in the criminal justice system after killing their father’s girlfriend; while some argued that the two murdered Sonya Nicole Speights because she was stealing attention away from them, the two said they killed as an act of revenge for sexual abuse.
Catherine Jones had told her brother about how a male relative had pleasured himself while watching her shower; after what is now the Florida Department of Children and Families declined to move forward with an investigation, Catherine began to plot the murder of her father, her male relative, and Speights; Curtis offered to help.
The two targeted Speights because they thought she allowed sexual abuse to continue. But after firing at her nine times, and striking her (fatally) four times, the children (just 12 and 13) realized their mistake and initially reported the incident as an accident. After they fled and hid out in a wooded area, police eventually found them and they became the two youngest people in the history of the United States to be charged as adults with first-degree murder.
As our Palm Beach and Broward County juvenile defense lawyers know, the two children — facing life sentences — agreed to plead guilty to a charge of second-degree murder, for which they were each sentenced to 18 years in prison to be followed by lifelong probation.
Because of the plea deal arrangement, there was no trial or testimony and thus no opportunity for Curtis and Catherine, and their attorneys, to show the documentation from the agency which would later be renamed the Department of Children and Families; those documents showed that welfare investigators had come across signs, on multiple occasions, that both Curtis and Catherine were being abused by a certain family member — a certain family member who, according to Florida Today, had previously been convicted of sexually assaulting his girlfriend’s daughter back in 1993. In addition, the “children and families” agency never had to answer for why it failed these two young children; after acknowledging sexual abuse, why did they close the investigation?
Our Palm Beach and Broward County juvenile defense lawyers know that the fact that the documents indicating likely sexual abuse of the children never had a chance to make their way in front of a jury likely, and unfairly, sealed the fate of the two children, who were apparently just acting out of self-defense. Now, despite the fact that they are leaving prison this summer, they’ve still spent almost two decades in prison, they still will remain on probation for the rest of their lives, and they still will have to live with the burden that they’ve been convicted of murder.
Without aggressive and competent legal representation, as our Palm Beach and Broward County juvenile defense lawyers at Leifert & Leifert know, juveniles are often forced to accept plea deals out of fear, as they were in this case. Had there been a trial, agency documents would have demonstrated a potentially understandable motive which might have forced prosecutors into reducing the charges.
If you have any questions about this or any other juvenile criminal defense issue, or if you or your child has been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward and/or Miami-Dade County, please contact our criminal defense and juvenile defense attorneys at Leifert & Leifert to schedule a free consultation by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363). We look forward to assisting you!