Jacksonville’s youngest first degree murder suspect has pled to lesser charges.
In front of Judge Mallory Cooper today, 14-year-old Cristian Fernandez responded “Yes ma’am” to a series of questions about whether he understands what he was agreeing to. He will now be committed to a Juvenile detention center until he is 19-year-old for pleading guilty to manslaughter. He also pled to aggravated battery, for which he has been penalized as an adult to eight years of probation after his release from commitment, but the guilty adjudication has been withheld for the time being to give Fernandez the chance to not be labeled a felon.
“For nearly two years the focus of this case has been on the defendant. Today, it’s about justice for David,” says State Attorney Angela Corey.
Corey was flanked by Assistant State Attorneys, Homicide detectives and a victim advocate when she unveiled several pictures of two-year-old David Galaragga, who died in 2011 after being beaten by his half-brother Fernandez. His mother is awaiting sentencing for her role in Galaragga’s death- she did not get the boy medical attention until about 8 hours after the beating.
Corey says David is finally getting justice with this sentence, but it is a middle ground that also gives Cristian another chance.
“If he becomes a productive member of society, we can all say it was the right thing to do,” she says.
That’s little doubt to Fernandez’ attorney, Hank Coxe. He says Fernandez has been doing well under the structure of his current confinement and has continued studying.
One of the provisions of his sentence requires Fernandez to continue pursuing an education while confined.
“We started out to salvage a normal adult life for Cristian Fernandez, and we accomplished what we set out to do,” Coxe says.
He thinks it was an injustice to see Fernandez on trial as an adult, in what he says was a case where Fernandez clearly never intended to kill his half-brother. For Corey, however, the uniqueness of the case warranted the original indictment.
“This defendant needed to be punished for the acts that he committed upon this child, but he also needed to receive rehabilitation that went beyond what the juvenile jurisdiction could provide,” she says.
Coxe says the trial team struggled to decide whether to take the deal or continue to court, but he says that decision ultimately fell on Cristian.
“He balanced everything and said ‘I want to move on with my life’,” Coxe says.
Other conditions of Fernandez’ parole include no unsupervised contact with anyone under 16 without his parole officer’s approval, no contact with relatives unless they initiate it after they are of-age, either full-time employment in a job or as a student or a combination of the two, and continued counseling and evaluation.
If he adheres to all the terms of his probation, the time could be reduced to five years. If he violates the terms, he faces up to 15 years in state prison, accounting for time served.