Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (12)
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 14, 2011
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: January 14, 1999
Victim profile: David Galarraga, 2 (his half brother)
Method of murder: Cristian repeatedly slammed his head on a bookshelf to kill him
Location: Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida, USA
Status: Pleaded guilty to manslaughter and aggravated battery on February 7, 2013. Cristian will be released from the Department of Juvenile Justice on his 19th birthday in January 2018

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Cristian Fernandez interrogation released

Then-12-year-old's confession was later thrown out by judge

February 25, 2013

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office interrogation of then-12-year-old Cristian Fernandez, who pleaded guilty this month to manslaughter and aggravated battery in the death of his 2-year-old half brother, was released to Channel 4 on Monday.

The interview and confession recorded by detectives were ultimately thrown out by a judge after she ruled the boy hadn't fully understood his Miranda rights or what he was doing when he waived them.

Fernandez was arrested and interrogated in March 2011. He was charged with murder and became Duval County's youngest-ever murder suspect.

The interrogation video lasts about an hour and 24 minutes in its entirety, but Fernandez sits in the interview room for more than 20 minutes before a female detective comes in. They then go through his Miranda rights a short time later.

"You don't have to talk to me," Detective Nechelle Soehlig tells Fernandez. "I want you to talk to me, but you don't have to talk to me, OK?"

About six minutes later, the boy, using a doll, shows the detective how he broke David Galarriago's leg in an incident in January 2011.

"Did you hear a snap?" the detective asked.

"Well, sort of," Fernandez said. "He started crying, so I stopped."

The two then started talking about the toddler's fatal head injuries. Fernandez said Galarriago was carrying books over his head when the books fell, then Galarriago fell. The detective told Fernandez repeatedly that couldn't be the truth.

There were long pauses in which they just looked at each other. She asked him to tell the truth, to do the right thing for Galarriogo's sake, and that he didn't have to be scared. She said, "You feel bad about what happened tonight?" And he answered yes.

Then Fernandez confesses.

"Did you hit him with something?" the detective asked.

"No," Fernandez said.

"What happened?" the detective asked.

"I pushed him against the book shelf," Fernandez said.

"How did you do that? Why'd you push him? Were you angry?" the detective asked.

"Yes, about something my stepdad did to me," Fernandez said.

"Why tonight?" the detective asked.

"Because I was thinking about it," Fernandez said.

"Why'd you take it out on your little brother? Was it because he was there?" the detective asked.

"Yes," Fernandez said.

Fernandez, again using a doll, showed the detective how he shoved Galarriogo into the bookcase. He said the boy was bleeding from the nose and mouth, so he carried him to the bed.

"What was your mom doing when this happened?" the detective asked.

"I don't know," Fernandez said.

"Was she home?" the detective asked.

"No, she was driving, taking my other brother to school. I'm not sure where she was," Fernandez said.

"Does she make you babysit your brothers and sisters a lot?" the detective asked.

"Yes," Fernandez said.

He said after he shoved Galarriogo's head into the shelf two times, the boy didn't move but was breathing.

The detective leaves the room about 58 minutes into the recording, then returns about 12 minutes later. The two review things.

"Did you know what you did was wrong?" she asked.

"Mm, hm," Fernandez said. "I felt bad because then I realized what I'd actually done, because I really wasn't thinking about what I was doing when I pushed him. I was just thinking about myself."

He went on to say he was worried about what was going to happen to Galarriogo, that he wasn't worried about himself.

Fernandez asked if his brother didn't wake up, would that mean he won't make it. He asked if the doctors could wake him up. The detective said they couldn’t do that, and she didn't know what was going to happen.

Last year, Judge Mallory Cooper last year granted a defense motion to dismiss the videotaped interview and confession as evidence because police were wrong to interrogate him without another adult present -- that his consent as a 12-year-old was not legally sufficient.

Gene Nichols, a defense attorney not related to the case, says either way, the would likely have ended in a plea agreement.

"There's no question that by the judge tossing this, the judge had determined that this young man did not have the mental ability to understand what his rights were," Nichols said. "Whether or not the statements are consistent, we don't know, and we won't know unless we can ever find out physically what happened in that room."

Fernandez, now 14, will remain jailed until his 19th birthday.


Cristian Fernandez, now 13, pleads guilty, sentenced to prison until he's 19

February 8, 2013

Cristian Fernandez, the youngest person charged as an adult with first-degree murder in Jacksonville history, pleaded guilty Friday morning as a juvenile to manslaughter and aggravated battery in the March 2011 death of his 2-year-old half brother.

If Fernandez adheres to the conditions of the plea agreement, the 13-year-old will be released from the Department of Juvenile Justice on his 19th birthday in January 2018. Since he was arrested in 2011, that means he would have served 7 years on the manslaughter charge once the sentence is complete.

He also must continue his education while incarcerated.

Adjudication of guilt will be withheld in the aggravated battery charge, which will run consecutive to the manslaughter charge.

Upon his release on the manslaughter charge, he will serve 8 years of probation as part of the aggravated battery charge. That includes conditions to stay away from any siblings unless they seek to meet with him – he has another half brother and a sister – and not to spend any unsupervised time with anyone under 16 unless approved by his probation officer. He also must look for employment when eligible.

The probation be terminated after five years if Fernandez adheres to the conditions. If he violates probation, he will be sentenced as an adult to a term related to the crime.

A court hearing on the plea agreement is underway before Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper. Today’s hearing, which began about 12:35, was set for pre-trial motions and the plea agreement was previously unannounced.

Fernandez stood between two of his attorneys as defense attorney Hank Coxe read parts of the plea agreement related to the charges he was pleading guilty to.

The plea agreement comes nearly two years after Fernandez’s half brother, David Galarraga, died from head injuries he suffered when authorities said Fernandez slammed him into a bookshelf in their apartment. The agreement between Fernandez’s team of private defense attorneys and the state attorney’s office also came less than a month before Fernandez’s first-degree murder trial was set to begin on March 4 after several continuances.

Fernandez was facing trial as an adult, but will be sentenced as a juvenile under the plea agreement. As a convicted juvenile felon, Fernandez will be released by the Department of Juvenile Justice sometime before his 21st birthday with likely conditions of probation. He has been jailed since March 2011 and faced up to life in prison if convicted at trial.

The agreement ends one of the most controversial local cases in recent history and attracted national attention because Fernandez was charged with first-degree murder as a 12-year-old. State Attorney Angela Corey has repeatedly spoken about her concerns for David’s rights while defending her decision to seek the indictment. Corey is in the audience for today’s court session.

Fernandez was charged with aggravated child abuse when first arrested and indicted by a grand jury in June 2011 on the first-degree murder charge.

The prosecution and defense shared victories during a series of hearings in the case.

Fernandez faced up to life in prison if convicted as an adult at trial, according to a ruling made in November by Judge Cooper after defense attorneys argued that a recent Supreme Court ruling prevented such a sentence.

The most damaging decision to the prosecution came in August when Cooper suppressed an interrogation by a Jacksonville police detective after the judge decided that Fernandez neither understood his Miranda warning or the implication of waiving his constitutional rights.

The detective, Mechelle Soehlig, was in court for today’s session. Fernandez’s defense team, whose spokesman has primarily been criminal defense lawyer Hank Coxe, took over the case from Public Defender Matt Shirk last year. That came after Shirk withdrew from the case at the request of Fernandez’s representatives. Shirk’s attempts to negotiate a plea deal while his office had the case collapsed after several months.

The case has been prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney’s Mark Caliel and Alan Mizrahi.

Corey was criticized by Fernandez supporters who either believed the boy was innocent or deserved to be tried as a juvenile. She indicated she never intended half Fernandez spend his life in prison, instead seeking a period of incarceration and treatment for him.

Today’s plea will expedite the sentencing of Fernandez’s mother, Biannela Susana, who pleaded guilty last year to aggravated manslaughter. Susana admitted to leaving David alone with Fernandez and a younger sister and then waiting eight hours to get the victim medical attention after finding him injured. David died after being taken to the hospital.

Susana, who was listed as a witness against Fernandez, faces up to 30 years in prison. Her sentencing was delayed until the outcome of Fernandez’s case. An unrelated sexual battery case against Fernandez involving another half brother was dropped by prosecutors in November. They cited a lack of physical evidence and witnesses as factors.


13-Year-Old Cristian Fernandez Will Face Life Without Parole for Killing Brother, Court Rules

The boy’s defense team had argued that a recent Supreme Court case invalidated Florida’s sentencing scheme, but the judge disagreed—so Cristian will go to trial. Eliza Shapiro reports.


November 21, 2012

Cristian Fernandez, the 13-year-old boy Florida prosecutors have accused of killing his 2-year-old half-brother, will stand trial for first-degree murder on March 4. Cristian’s defense team, a group of Jacksonville lawyers who have taken up his case pro bono, had sought to have the charges dropped after a recent Supreme Court ruling threw Florida’s sentencing scheme into doubt. But on Tuesday, Fourth Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper dismissed that request as “premature.”

Cristian “is yet to be convicted of the crime for which he is charged,” Cooper wrote in her three-paragraph decision. “Through the indictment, [he] has received all notice due to him at this time.”

The defense had pointed to last June’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama, in which the Supreme Court held that a mandatory sentence of life without parole was unconstitutional when applied to a juvenile. Because Florida law mandates either the death penalty or life without parole for anyone convicted of first-degree murder, Cristian’s lawyers argued, there was no applicable law under which the boy could be charged. (The Supreme Court previously held that juveniles cannot face the death penalty.) As a result, they said, Cristian had not received notice of the possible punishment he could face, a violation of the Due Process Clause.

Cooper rejected that claim, reasoning that Miller only prohibits a mandatory sentence of life without parole. So long as the sentencing court follows certain procedures required by Miller—such as considering Cristian’s age and other relevant characteristics—Cooper explained that “the potential maximum sentence a juvenile could constitutionally face if convicted of first-degree murder is still” life without parole. Hank Coxe, a member of Fernandez’s defense team, said in a statement following the decision: “We understand Judge Cooper’s ruling. It will not distract us from our commitment to fight the continued prosecution” of Cristian as an adult, “exposing him to a life in prison without parole.”

Fernandez was indicted in March 2011, when he was a 12-year-old sixth-grader at Kernan Middle School in Jacksonville. He had been arrested after his 25-year-old mother, Biannela Susana, returned home after getting a call from Cristian to find her other son, David, beaten unconscious. Prosecutors say Fernandez caused the fatal injuries by slamming him into a bookshelf. Fernandez initially told police that David had fallen off his bunk bed.

The defense alleges that Cristian, who will have been in custody for nearly two years by the time of trial, had already suffered a life of physical and emotional abuse when he was arrested.

When he was 2, passers-by found him naked, dirty, and alone in a parking lot. When Cristian was 11, his stepfather shot himself in the head after he learned the police planned to arrest him on charges of beating Cristian.

Cristian’s case has been spotlighted by advocates of less-harsh sentencing of juveniles. Among other shows of support, a Facebook page has been created in defense of Cristian, and a petition at calling for him to be tried as a juvenile had garnered more than 194,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

Carol Torres, whose grandson was in the same gym class with Cristian, called Cooper’s ruling “an abuse of power.” “Cristian is a very sweet kid,” Torres said. “They’re taking advantage of a child here.”

But some legal experts say Tuesday’s decision may actually allow Cristian to walk free sooner than he might have otherwise. Harry Shorstein, a former State Attorney for Florida’s Fourth Circuit, said that if Cooper had granted the defense’s request to drop the charges, “the appeals process might have been very lengthy and it would have ultimately been a disservice” to Cristian, who would have to remain behind bars during the appeals.

“I would have liked to see the case move more quickly,” Shorstein said, “but with a case as complex as this one, two years from indictment to trial is not an unreasonable amount of time.” Prosecutors said they would continue to move forward with Cristian’s prosecution. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 29.



Sexual assault charge dropped against Cristian Fernandez

13-year-old boy still faces murder charge in 2-year-old half brother's death

November 08, 2012

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Prosecutors have decided to drop the sexual assault charge against 13-year-old Cristian Fernandez in the alleged incident involving his 5-year-old half brother, but still faces a murder charged in the death of younger sibling.

Judge Mallory Cooper had previously thrown out all of Fernandez' statements to police in the case.

That, combined with conflicting statements by the half brother and the lack of physical evidence led prosecutors to drop the charge.

Attorney Gene Nichols, who's not connected to the case, said the judge's decision to throw out the boy's statements didn't leave the state with much more than the conflicting evidence of the young victim to go on.

"It appeared that all the state attorney's office had were these conflicting statements to prosecute Cristian, and that was not going to be enough to prosecute Cristian," Nichols said.

Cooper threw out Fernandez's statements because she found he hadn't fully understood his rights or what he was doing when he waived them. Without any physical evidence, it didn't leave the state with many options other than to dismiss.

Fernandez is still facing a murder charge in the death of his 2-year-old half brother. That trial is now scheduled for March 4.

Nichols said the murder case against Fernandez is still viable.

"There is presumably physical evidence that will establish someone committed a crime, or else I wouldn't think we would be where we are right now," Nichols said.

The question remains, however, how Fernandez will face that charge: as an adult or as a minor.

No decision was made at a court hearing last month on a motion to dismiss the murder charge against Fernandez.

Lawyers for the boy have asked Cooper to throw out the first-degree murder charge because Florida sentencing guidelines require anyone convicted of that crime to face either the death penalty or life in prison without parole. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that it's unconstitutional for juvenile offenders to get mandatory life sentences.

Prosecutors say that the old Florida law that called for a 25-year-to-life sentence could apply, but defense attorneys say Fernandez should not be tried under the current law because they can't advise their client what kind of sentence he could face.

Fernandez was 12 when he was arrested in March 2011 and charged with killing his 2-year-old half brother.

Nichols said that when it comes to the case against the boy, one charge will be easier for the defense to fight than two.

"He still has incredibly serious charges that are pending with the murder charges, so he still has a long road left, but at least we know a big chunk of the road has been taken away," Nichols said.

The sentencing hearing for Fernandez's mother, Biannela Susana, has been pushed back to Jan. 8. She has pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter in the death of her youngest son and faces 13-30 years in prison.



Cristian Fernandez's mother pleads guilty in death of 2-year-old son

Biannela Susana admits neglect after finding David Galarraga unconscious.

By Jim Schoettler -

March 28, 2012

Biannela Susana, the mother of 13-year-old Jacksonville murder defendant Cristian Fernandez, pleaded guilty Wednesday in the death of her 2-year-old son and briefly testified about neglecting him.

The most startling revelation during the 20-minute court hearing was that Susana waited nearly eight hours to take David Galarraga to the hospital after arriving home to find him unconscious. She initially told police she waited two hours while researching information about head trauma on the Internet.

Susana’s plea to aggravated manslaughter came during a pre-trial court hearing before Circuit Judge James H. Daniel. She faces a minimum of 13 years in prison up to 30 years. A sentencing date has not been set.

It’s unclear what implications Susana’s plea will have in the case against Fernandez, who is accused of killing his half brother after slamming him into a bookshelf in their apartment in March 2011. Prosecutor Mark Caliel said she could be called as a witness by both the state and the defense. A date for the murder trial has not been set.

Caliel said he learned a few days ago that Susana, 26, had decided to plead guilty. The state offered nothing in return, Caliel said.

“We’re pleased with the plea because it’s the first step toward achieving justice for David,” Caliel said.

Susana, dressed in a gray jail jumpsuit, handcuffs and leg shackles, admitted to her role in the death and previous neglect under brief questioning by Caliel. She answered most questions with a quiet “yes” or “no.”

When asked by the judge whether she was pleading guilty because she was guilty, Susana, 26, said it was in her “best interest.” Her attorney, Shawn Arnold, declined to say why she decided to plead guilty. Arnold said Susana remains worried about Fernandez.

“She continues to hope for the best for him,” he said.

Caliel said on the day of David’s death, Susana went to a nearby bank, leaving him and a sister, about 4 years old, alone with Fernandez. Caliel said Fernandez called her to say that David had been injured in a fall from a bunk bed, which Susana later told authorities.

“I went back home,” Susana testified Wednesday. “He [David] was unconscious.”

She also said David had blood coming from his nose and her attempts to revive him failed.

Caliel said Susana arrived home shortly after 9 a.m. and didn’t take David to the hospital until about 5 p.m., though he remained unresponsive. A police report said she put ice on his head and turned to websites for information about head injuries, which was later verified by a police search of her computer. She told police she waited about two hours for the boy to wake up before she took him to a hospital, according to the report.

She then drove David to St. Luke’s Hospital. He was taken by helicopter to Shands Jacksonville and pronounced brain dead from repeated blunt force trauma to the head, Caliel said.

Caliel explained after the hearing that there are two differing theories of culpability for Susana and Fernandez in David’s death.

He said Fernandez was left in the sole care and custody of David and is accused of inflicting the injury that caused the death. He is charged with first-degree murder.

Caliel said Susana was neglectful for failing to act appropriately in seeking medical attention for his head injuries in March. He said she also failed to provide appropriate supervision and care for David during that day having known that two months earlier Fernandez broke David’s leg.

Caliel said Susana lied to authorities about the January incident — she initially said it occurred in a playground accident — to keep the Department of Children and Families from taking her children. Caliel said Susana waited two days to seek medical attention for the broken leg. He said that and her failure to get him help for hours in March established a pattern of neglect.

Police said at the time of her arrest that Susana’s negligence was a factor in David’s death. A doctor told police the boy might have survived his injuries, including a skull fracture, had Susana not waited to get medical help.

One of Fernandez’s attorneys, Hank Coxe, said Wednesday that Susana’s delay in taking him to the hospital in March caused David’s death. Coxe said he was puzzled that she was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge than her son now faces.

“We will deal with this in the courtroom,” Coxe said.



Cristian Fernandez indicted on sexual battery charge

By Jim Schoettler -

January 5, 2012

Twelve-year-old Cristian Fernandez is set to appear in court today to seek dismissal of his murder case and to face a fresh charge of sexual battery.

A grand jury indicted Fernandez Thursday morning in the sex case involving his 5-year-old half brother. Fernandez is accused of sexually abusing the victim on one or more occasions between Oct. 22, 2010, and March 14 of last year, according to the indictment.

The charge — sexual battery by a person under the age of 18 upon a person under the age of 12 — carries a prison term of up to life. Prosecutors said they don’t intend to seek the maximum in either case, though Fernandez is charged as an adult. They said they hope he is properly punished, treated and rehabilitated.

The indictment follows jockeying last month in which Fernandez’s public defender rejected a plea in the murder case and then failed to block efforts by the State Attorney’s Office to present the sexual battery case to the grand jury.

The state has been preparing the sexual battery case since last summer. But prosecutors delayed seeking the indictment at the request of the defense during plea negotiations in the murder case, Prosecutor Mark Caliel said. Caliel said the state intended to incorporate the sexual battery case into the murder case before plea efforts soured.

“When negotiations broke down, we made it clear we were left with no alternative. We can’t ignore our additional victim,” Caliel said. “We told them [the defense] that out of professional courtesy and it was at that point in time that they tried to block us from doing our job.”

Public Defender Matt Shirk called the sexual battery case “weak” and motivated by the state’s desire to sway public opinion.

“My question would just be how many more ways can the state of Florida attempt to completely destroy this child’s life?” Shirk said.

Caliel declined to discuss details of the sexual battery case, including the victim’s identity. A court motion the state filed in June said Fernandez’s half brother told authorities Fernandez molested him. It also said Fernandez admitted the attack while in custody for murder and aggravated child abuse charges connected to his 2-year-old half brother David Galarraga’s death in March.

Caliel said the state has the discretion to charge someone as an adult in Florida only for an offense punishable by life in prison or death. Because the sexual battery charge has a potential maximum penalty of life in prison, the grand jury was allowed to consider indicting someone under 14 years old and charge him as an adult, Caliel said.

Fernandez is set to appear before Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper today on a defense motion to dismiss the murder case, which is scheduled to go to trial next month.

The defense intends to argue that because the predicate felony is aggravated child abuse, which resulted in a homicide, state law prevents Fernandez from being charged with both offenses. The state intends to argue that case law, based on a successful local prosecution, allows for both.

Fernandez also will be arraigned on the sexual battery charge.

Fernandez turns 13 next week. He is the youngest person to be charged with murder in Jacksonville history. He remains in custody after his arrest in June.



Cristian Fernandez case: As someone surfed Internet, tot's life was slipping away

'Concussions' Googled, but also music downloaded and a YouTube visit.

By Bridget Murphy -

September 14, 2011

The first Internet search about head trauma happened at 10:54 a.m.

Someone used one of two laptops in Biannela Susana's apartment to look up content about when a person "gets knocked out."

Then hours passed before someone Googled "concussions on children" at 2:38 p.m.

Around the same time, there was a search on the Toshiba laptop for "unconscious for hours."

At 3:07 p.m. someone looked up info for St. Luke's Hospital in Jacksonville.

The Web surfing on that laptop ended at 4:05 p.m. No one did any similar Internet searches on an HP laptop police also found in the home that day.

But a forensic exam of the Toshiba showed that as the life of Susana's 2-year-old son, David Galarraga, was slipping away March 14, someone did a lot more Internet surfing.

"In between the times Susana was searching about unconsciousness, she also downloaded music, searched for popular screen savers and logged on to YouTube," a detective's report says.

The report was among more than 200 pages of court documents prosecutors released Wednesday in response to a public records request from The Florida Times-Union.

Police arrested Susana in April, charging her with aggravated manslaughter of a child. But in the hours after she brought David to a hospital, police already had at least one other suspect in mind.

On March 15 they arrested Susana's 12-year-old son, Cristian Fernandez, for assaulting his half brother. Authorities later upped the charges to include first-degree murder, saying Cristian inflicted fatal injuries by slamming David against a bookshelf when their mother wasn't home. A grand jury indictment in June made him the youngest person in the city's history to face that charge.

As both mother and son await separate trials, the newly released documents provided more details about the day of the crime. They also sparked questions about who was behind the Toshiba's keyboard.

Keyboard questions

Police records show Susana got to St. Luke's at 5:25 p.m. that day. David's injuries were so critical that doctors sent him by helicopter to Shands Jacksonville hospital's trauma unit.

A detective later noted the child's eyes were partially rolled back in his head and he had no eye or body movement. David also had a blue cast that went from below his left hip to his foot, treatment for the broken leg he suffered in January. Among his new injuries was a skull fracture.

After two days, doctors turned off his life-support machines when they knew he wouldn't wake up. But a physician would tell police that it might have been possible to save David's life if Susana had sought medical help right away. While her arrest report shows she didn't, there still are questions about the timing.

The report shows her account of David's injuries changed as she talked with police. At first she said she was in the kitchen when her son got hurt. Later she said she wasn't home when Cristian told her David fell from a bunk bed.

The 25-year-old said she went home and found David unresponsive, before changing his clothes and putting ice on his head. She told police she looked up concussions online and hoped the 2-year-old would wake up. Susana also admitted David previously broke his leg while wrestling with Cristian, something she said she lied about at first and told Cristian to lie about.

Police also wrote in the arrest report that Susana waited about two hours before seeking help at St. Luke's on March 14.

But Susana's lawyer tried to cast doubt Wednesday on whether it was the mother at the Toshiba's keyboard that day. Defense lawyer Shawn Arnold said it was Cristian's laptop where all the Internet searches happened. While court records show both computers listed Biannela's name and neither had passwords, Arnold pointed out the Toshiba listed "Cool Kids Learn" as its user-defined account.

He also pointed out that the first medical website someone surfed to was, something he called child-friendly. He said the 3:07 p.m. search for hospital info fit with the approximate two-hour time frame from his client's arrest report.

"This is his computer," Arnold said. "That's all I'm going to say. It's the state's burden to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt."

However, Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel said Internet searches on the Toshiba also included clicks to a bank website. He questioned if a 12-year-old would be doing online banking.

Public Defender Matt Shirk, whose office represents Cristian, said he wasn't surprised Susana's lawyer was trying to minimize her culpability.

"I'm sure that's just the beginning of blame she'll try to shift to her own child," he said.

Police search

At about 11:40 p.m. on March 14, police went inside the crime scene after Susana signed her consent for a search of her Alden Road apartment. They found both laptops on the kitchen counter. In David's bedroom, they found blood and what looked like vomit.

While there was no damage to the bookshelf or blood on it, there was blood on the carpet and on part of the bunk beds. There was blood on a pillow, on a baseball shirt and on a sheet on the bottom bunk. Police also found blood on a shower curtain and on a child-sized pair of tan pants in a closet laundry basket.

Besides the apartment search, court records show a police interview with Cristian Fernandez also happened in the early morning of March 15. The State Attorney's Office redacted more than two dozen pages of that interview's transcript, citing a public records law exemption about confessions.

But the records seem to show police had Cristian in a room for at least 90 minutes before ending the interview after 3:30 a.m. They also show he fell asleep at some point while apparently left alone.

"If we do have to try the case, we anticipate significant legal challenges to his interview," Shirk said Wednesday, while alluding to ongoing plea negotiations.

Away in cuffs

Cristian's interview ended at 3:37 a.m. March 15 after an exchange with a detective who walked back into the room.

"It's time to go, buddy. I need you to stand up, I gotta put these on you," the detective said.


"I said, I gotta put these on you. Come on, stand up, buddy."


"Stand up for me. Put your hands behind your back."


"Turn around that way. There you go. Right here. All right, come on out, let's go this way."

Then the detective led Cristian away in handcuffs, kicking off another kind of search for answers in what would become a landmark murder case.



New documents show 12-year-old killed kitten, sexually abused brother

Suspect, 12, described in documents

By David Hunt -

June 25, 2011

Court papers filed Friday in the case of a 12-year-old Jacksonville boy charged with first-degree murder say he has sexually assaulted children, including a sibling, and once beat a kitten to death by slamming its head on the floor.

Although much has been said about Cristian Fernandez's abusive upbringing, the 17-page filing was the first look the public has been able to take at some of the deviant behaviors prosecutors say preceded an indictment for his 2-year-old half brother's March beating death.

The filing was part of an argument to keep Fernandez in the Duval County jail, but a judge's ruling moved him to a juvenile facility Friday.

The details were extracted from a forensic psychologist's report and child-welfare documents.

The psychologist's report traces problem behaviors back to 2002, when Fernandez would have been 3.

Psychologist William Meadows also wrote in the May 26 report that Fernandez talked about killing a pet kitten, punching it and slamming its head on the floor, because it scratched him in the face.

The report notes two physical fights with other youths since Fernandez was taken into custody in mid-March. It also details public indecency, an incident in which he simulated a sex act on a male child twice his age and the sexual assault of his surviving half brother.

Meadows also took into account past abuse where Fernandez had been a victim. A standardized test labeled him a high risk for future violence.

Prosecutors contend that Fernandez repeatedly slammed 2-year-old half brother David Galarraga's head on a bookshelf to kill him. The psychological report shows Fernandez's perception of the death from the Meadows interview:

"He said that he picked up his younger brother and pushed him into the bookcase. He said that his brother was bleeding and unresponsive so he carried him to the bed and called his mother.

"Cristian denied any plans or intent to kill his brother. He seemed rather defensive about discussing what triggered his anger. He talked about having a flashback of the abuse by his stepfather as the motive for this offense."

The stepfather, Luis Galarraga, shot himself to death in front of Fernandez's younger sibling last October as the Hialeah police were coming to arrest him for abusing Fernandez.

Shortly after the suicide, the family moved to Jacksonville. Court papers say Fernandez had enrolled at Kernan Middle School. He was a straight-A sixth-grade student at the time of his arrest.

State Attorney Angela Corey and Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel filed the papers Friday to combat a written request Public Defender Matt Shirk had made to allow Fernandez to await trial at a juvenile facility. For the past three weeks, he has spent 23 hours a day in isolation at the Duval County jail.


Fernandez is the youngest person in the city's history to face a first-degree murder charge and, if convicted, would be sentenced to life.

Chief Circuit Judge Donald Moran ruled Friday that Fernandez would be transported back to the juvenile facility. He still will be tried as an adult, but Moran said he was not convinced the Duval jail was the best place for him.

Although the judge recognized state law saying juveniles are to be treated like adults when charged as adults, he was concerned to hear - because of his age - Fernandez was being held in isolation.

Further, Jail Chief Tara Wildes said during a brief hearing that murder defendants are held for an average of 360 days before trial.

"The point is, there's an inability to treat him as an adult," Moran said. "I don't even know if this boy is guilty. He's presumed innocent. I'm just uncomfortable holding him in isolation for up to 360 days."

Fernandez's lawyers argued that he'd have easier access to therapists and education at the juvenile facility.

From the outset of the case, they've argued that he's the product of an abusive upbringing and needs help, not prison. Fernandez did not attend Friday's hearing. His next court date is July 21.



Jacksonville 12-year-old charged with first-degree murder of brother

He's the youngest ever in the city to be charged with such a crime.

By David Hunt -

June 2, 2011

Months before Jacksonville police say 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez beat his 2-year-old half brother to death, investigators started asking why the toddler's leg was broken.

The family said David Galarriago had an accident while playing on a jungle gym, according to court papers.

Thursday, prosecutors say that wasn't just a lie but a warning sign about the rampant abuse that ultimately took the toddler's life and made Fernandez the youngest person in city history to be charged with first-degree murder.

"It is disturbing, but when you know you have to balance the safety of other children in the home and in the community, it is not so disturbing," State Attorney Angela Corey said after a grand jury indicted Fernandez.

With the indictment, Fernandez is being transported from a juvenile detention center to the Duval County jail although Corey said he'll be placed with the jail's juvenile inmates. He faces adult charges that already have criminal law experts wondering how well Fernandez could have understood his actions.

"Especially if it's a beating death, you could argue that the child did not have the intent to kill, which would be necessary even for second-degree murder," said Robert Batey, professor of criminal law at Stetson University College of Law. "Or that the child was not capable of the cool thinking beforehand that's implied by the notion of premeditation."

Galarriago died in March with a fractured skull, a bleeding brain and bruising to his left eye and nose, according to court documents.

Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel, who is assigned to prosecute Fernandez, said evidentiary rules prevent him from going into detail about what happened before the case is in open court.

"It was something that was done with a lot of reflection," he said as he described a heartbreaking scene starting with the boys' mother, Biannela Susana, 25, giving birth to Fernandez when she was just 12.

Caliel, who is father to an 11-year-old girl, said he never thought he would be prosecuting someone so young for a crime so serious.

"It's a tragic set of events to say the least," he said.

Susana is charged with aggravated manslaughter by culpable negligence and is scheduled to go to trial in September. Police say she initially told investigators that Galarriago was hurt in a fall at the family's Southside apartment.

The warrant for her arrest says Susana came home to find the 2-year-old unresponsive but did not call 911. Rather, she put ice on his head, turned to websites for information about concussions and waited hours for the boy to wake up, police say, but he never did.

Nobody was home at the Alden Road apartment Thursday afternoon. The unit points toward a tennis court and a small playground amid a handful of modest, beige-colored buildings where the few people milling about Thursday said they'd never heard of the family.

Corey said the family is from the Miami area and wasn't in Jacksonville long before Galarriago was killed. Prosecutors said a father did not appear to be around and Susana had other children who were taken into protective custody.

Before Fernandez's indictment, the youngest person charged with a Jacksonville homicide was 13-year-old Thomas Thompson. He was convicted and sentenced to life in 1994 for shooting an off-duty corrections officer, Tammy Jo Johnson, to death in a robbery outside a Westside bar.

Christopher Slobogin, director of the criminal justice program at Vanderbilt University Law School, said many states don't even allow such a charge for children Fernandez's age. But Florida's laws allow prosecutors to "direct file" cases in criminal court for children even younger than Fernandez.

"Even in Florida, kids this young are rarely prosecuted in adult court, even for crimes this serious," Slobogin said.

Slobogin pointed out that Lionel Tate was charged with first-degree murder at the same age in 1999 for the beating death of a 6-year-old girl he was baby-sitting in Broward County and received a life sentence. That conviction was overturned by an appeals court in 2004 after the panel found it wasn't clear whether Tate understood the charges.

Even in that case, Slobogin said, the first-degree murder charge was only filed after the family rejected a plea deal in juvenile court.

Because of his age, Fernandez will not face the death penalty.

If convicted of first-degree murder, he would be sentenced to life without parole.

Times-Union writer Kate Howard contributed to this report.



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