Curtis and Catherine Jones

This case made it to my list after I had seen a few article titles in 2015 stating how the youngest person ever to be charged with murder was being released from prison.  As I do with many cases that I find like that I do not search them to get specifics until I am ready to sit down and do some research.  When I did do that I was left frustrated and disturbed.

On January 6, 1999 thirteen year old Catherine Jones and her twelve year old brother shot their father's girlfriend, Sonya Speights in their Melbourne Florida home.  They apparently attempted to move the body and clean up the area but realizing what they had done they then decided to run to a friends home and stated they had shot her accidentally. When the friends parents stated they were calling the police the two children ran and hid in the woods.  They would be found the following morning.

Despite efforts from their public defenders the state decided, and a judge agreed, that the two would be charged as adults in adult court.  No one it seems looked into the lives of the two children.  The state planned to charge them with first degree murder.  Curtis would be the youngest person in the nation to have this ever happen.  Had they been charged in juvenile court they would have spent a maximum of three years in the system and the prosecutor apparently felt that was not enough. 

The media went wild of course.  Articles all over proclaimed how these two children had murdered their father's girlfriend because he planned to marry her and they were jealous of her relationship with their father.  On the surface it sounds like an extremely cold blooded killing.  

Through their attorney's the children were allowed to plead guilty to second degree murder to receive a sentence in which they would serve eighteen years and when released would spend a lifetime on probation.  Again it seems that no one spoke up for these children or even looked into their home life at all.  And, the saddest part about it is that there were records that were easily obtainable, let alone people who could testify.  I was completely appalled to read an article in which one of the attorney's for the children was interviewed and brushed off all the information that had been discovered much later saying they could only go with what their client told them.  For me this was the ultimate co-out if I ever saw one.  

It was not until ten years later when Catherine would do an interview that anyone seemed to even care what happened and why.  There were many who did not believe the story that Catherine told in 2009 so it appears that there was a quest to prove, or disprove her story.  What was found was amazing and it showed that these children had been abused, not just by a family member but apparently by the system and everyone they knew. And, instead of getting help they were thrown away like trash into prison.  It should be noted that in 2015, upon their release the prosecutor from the case stated he did not believe the allegations of abuse. I would give this prosecutor a pass in their belief if there was nothing but Catherine's word, or even just the word of people that supported the children.  However, there are documents from the Department of Family Services, as well as the police, among others that collaborate most of her story.  

After learning a little about their story one of the first questions that I had was where was their mother.  It seems that Catherine and Curtis' mother had left when the children were four and five years old.  She would claim that she left their father, Curtis Sr. due to abuse and that he had threatened her about taking her children.  Of course she would also comment that while she left Florida and headed back to her parents in Kansas, fleeing Curtis Sr she could not have taken her children anyway.  Her parents had disapproved of her relationship with Curtis Sr from the beginning simply based on the fact that she was white and he was black.  There seemed to be so many other reasons for them to hate Curtis Sr but apparently that was the important one for them and they simply did not accept their bi-racial grandchildren.  In 1993 their mother had returned to Florida, apparently now living on her own in Kansas and had taken the children from their schools. Curtis Sr had her arrested and she was charged with a third degree felony of interfering with custody.  The children were returned to their father and the charges against their mother were dropped.

A few months after their mother had left in 1989 it seems that Curtis Sr was charged with second degree murder for shooting two men in a pool hall.  The children were sent to live with Curtis Sr's mother in Alabama.  The charged were reduced to a misdemeanor and determined to be self defense.  It does not appear that he was in jail for long and the children were returned to his care.

In 1993 a family member (it seems nothing names this man specifically) was charged with molesting his girlfriends daughter and did some jail time, although apparently it was not much.  Upon his release he began living with Curtis Sr. and the children.  Sonya would also be living with them.  Sonya had two daughters from a previous relationship but they apparently only lived with the family for a few months in 1998.  They were raised by their grandmother.  In 1999 when their mother was murdered they would be eight and nine years old.

It seems as if the first time DFC was contacted was after Curtis and Catherine had visited their mother in Kansas.  Curtis was about eight years old and told his mother about the family member, who was sharing a room with him, touching him inappropriately.  Once he returned to Florida DFC went to speak to the family and it was here that the eight year old was now telling a different story.  It appears that the social worker suspected that abuse had occurred but the case was closed. Another time DFC was called when Curtis had gone to school with a black eye. Once again abuse was suspected and noted but nothing was followed up on.

Then in September of 1998, just four months before Sonya would be killed Catherine ran away from home.  Once again DFC was contacted.  Catherine's teacher had even talked to them saying she believed that Catherine was being molested at home.  This report seems to be the most detailed and was noted that there were "some indications of physical and sexual abuse" but that Catherine had denied the claims.  Once again the case was closed although it was noted that the family was told that the family member who had been convicted in 1993 and living in the home should not be there.  This seemed to be a suggestion and not an order, by anyone.  Catherine would later say that she was forced to lie to DFC on their visits and deny that the family member had done anything to the children.

For the next few months things seemed to get worse.  According to Catherine she was willing to do whatever it took at that point to get out of the home and away from the abuse.  She was also angry at the adults in her life because none of them seemed to believe that she had been abused by the family member.  She came up with a plan that she would obtain her father's gun and in the process would kill her father, the family member and Sonya.  She claims she discussed this with Curtis and he agreed to help her. Looking back Catherine has said she knows the plan, especially starting with Sonya made no sense and that had she insisted on going through with things she should have only done so with the abusive family member.  She would go on to say that on January 6, 1999 she, Curtis and Sonja were sitting at the table and they knew the family member would be returning later that evening.  Curtis held his father's gun in his lap under the table and at some point started firing at Sonya.  She does not remember a lot of the details in the chaos but knows she too took the gun and shot at Sonya.  A total of nine shots were fired, Sonya was hit by four of them.

Catherine would say that initially she was simply happier being out of the home and she knows that now, as an adult, how absurd this sounds.  The children had been conditioned it seemed to not discuss the abuse, just as many children of abuse are trained to do. Apparently this is why it was not until ten years after the murder that the allegations were made public.  

As I stated earlier I am appalled that these children were failed at every avenue that they faced.  Now, murder is murder, which is what they committed but first off, it would not have come to that had authorities (police had gone with social workers to the home on at least one, if not more occasions) including the police and DFC had done their jobs properly.  Secondly, once they were arrested the public defenders assigned to them should have looked deeper into things and presented that evidence to the courts.  None of this happened.  Instead a twelve and thirteen year old were allowed to plead guilty to a crime, that yes they did commit but without any true representation.  

There does seem to be someone within the system working for them now to attempt to have them granted some sort of clemency.  I hope they are successful in some manner because in my opinion "lifetime probation" does not seem to be legal, nor appropriate. 

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