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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Aiden Fucci’s penalty phase is next after the teenager pleaded guilty Monday morning to first-degree murder in the death of his 13-year-old St. Johns County schoolmate Tristyn Bailey.
When Fucci, now 16, stood before the judge, pleaded guilty and apologized to Bailey’s family on Monday, the same morning jury selection was scheduled to begin in Fucci’s murder trial, it was not something the courtroom was expecting.
“It is pretty rare,” commented Curtis Fallgatter, a former federal prosecutor who is now a defense attorney not affiliated with this case. “If you’re setting the case for jury trial and jurors are coming in, and you told the judge that you moved for a change of venue, and then, while all the jurors have been brought in, you enter a plea. Why do it at the last minute? Obviously, there must’ve been a change of heart by the defendant to feel like that was in his best interest.”
Fallgatter said Fucci and his lawyers may have realized with such mounting evidence, a guilty plea may benefit the teen in the long run.
Without a trial, the case is now in the hands of Circuit Judge R. Lee Smith, who will rule on Fucci’s sentence.
Bailey was found stabbed to death on May 9, 2021, Mother’s Day, in Durbin Crossing, less than a half-mile from Fucci’s home in the neighborhood where Bailey also lived. Fucci, who was 14 at the time, was arrested in the early morning hours of the next day.
Because of his age, Fucci is not eligible for the death penalty but faces 40 years to life in prison. Under Florida law, he can request a review of his case after 25 years with a chance of resentencing.
News4JAX asked Fallgatter if it is likely that Fucci will not spend the rest of his life behind bars.
“When you look at the factors, why do you plead a case out? Because you’re hoping a quarter century from now, the judge will say, ‘Look, this young man plead out and saved us all the time and effort and stress, so I will give him a bit of a break,’” Fallgatter said. “But when you juxtapose that without serious the crime is, what is the chance of a judge, letting him out at 25 years? I wouldn’t think it’s very great.”
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In court, Fucci and his attorneys waived the right to appeal this part of the process by entering the plea, but they could still appeal the sentence if they feel it is not fair.
“They’re not giving up the right to appeal the sentence, so if the judge were to oppose a life sentence, and they were to appeal it and say it’s too harsh, they can do that,” Fallgatter said.
News4JAX also spoke with attorney Belkis Plata, a juvenile law expert who is not affiliated with the case. Plata agrees that Fucci’s apology in court can only help Fucci’s future.
“That’s one of the prongs the court has to look at, if he were to come back at a 25 year review sentence, is his remorse and how long has he been remorseful,” Plata said.
Notably, Fucci’s mother was charged with evidence tampering in the case. Investigators said surveillance video shows Crystal Smith scrubbing a pair of Fucci’s blue jeans, which had blood and DNA evidence on them.
“In light of the fact that this case is now resolved, and this case was probably the hold up for that case, it’s very likely that that case will come to a resolve,” Plata said. “I don’t expect to see Aiden testify against his mother.”
So far, Smith has not set a sentencing date, but when it is set, it will likely take about two days. The state and Bailey’s family are likely to outline the heinous details of the case as they push for a strong sentence.
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