A few months later on March 14, 2011, deputies were called to the apartment: Fernandez’ baby brother, 2-year-old David, had died at a local hospital. The medical examiner determined that the toddler had a fractured skull, bruising to his left eye and a bleeding brain.
Susana, then 25, admitted to investigators that she had left Fernandez, David and her other children home alone. When she returned, she said she found David unconscious. She waited eight-and-a-half hours before taking him to the hospital and searched ‘‘unconsciousness’’ online and texted friends during that time.
Susana also revealed that two weeks before David’s death, Fernandez had broken the toddler’s leg while wrestling.
Susana was charged with aggravated manslaughter; the medical examiner said David might have survived if she had taken him to the hospital sooner for the head injury. She pleaded guilty in March and could get 30 years.
Fernandez, who had first been questioned as a witness, was soon charged with first-degree murder. The other felony charge was filed after his 5-year-old half-brother told a psychiatrist that Fernandez had sexually assaulted him.
The boy has talked openly to investigators and therapists about his life; the gritty details are captured in various court documents.
‘‘Christian denied any plans or intent to kill his brother,’’ one doctor wrote. ‘‘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 ... Christian was rather detached emotionally while discussing the incident.’’
Based on psychological evaluations, prosecutors say that Fernandez poses a significant risk of violence. That’s why he is being detained pre-trial and why they charged him with two first-degree felonies.
Yet difficult questions remain for Judge Mallory Cooper: Should a child so young spend his life in prison? Does Fernandez understand his crimes, and can he comprehend the complex legal issues surrounding his case?
In August, Cooper ruled that police interrogations of Fernandez in the murder and sexual assault cases are not admissible, because the boy couldn’t knowledgeably waive his rights to remain silent and consult an attorney. Prosecutors are appealing.
The defense wants the charges dismissed, saying the U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning sentences of life without parole for juveniles makes it impossible for them to advise Fernandez since the Florida Legislature has not changed state law. Prosecutors say they never said they would seek a mandatory life sentence — they say the old Florida law that called for a 25-year-to-life sentence could apply.
Mitch Stone, a Jacksonville defense attorney who is familiar with the case, said Corey and her prosecutors are in a tough position.
‘‘I know they’re good people and good lawyers,’’ he said. ‘‘But if a resolution short of trial doesn’t occur, this case is on a collision course to sending Cristian Fernandez to life in prison. That’s why this is one of those very difficult cases. It’s hard to understand what the appropriate measure is.’’
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