After spending more than half his life behind bars, the country’s youngest convicted murderer, Curtis Jones, was released from a South Florida correctional facility this morning.
Jones was only 12 years old when he and his 13-year-old sister Catherine plotted to murder their father, their father's girlfriend, and a family member they claimed had sexually abused them, reports Florida Today.
On a night in January 1999, the siblings had been home alone with their father’s girlfriend, Sonya Nicole Speights, and decided to kill her first. They both shot several rounds at Ms. Speights then attempted to cover up the killing before running off into the woods near their home.
The police detained the two the next morning and they eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The teenagers were handed 18-year prison sentences followed by a lifetime of probation.
Now 29, Jones is an ordained minister who has isolated himself from the media since his case made national headlines, Florida Today reports. His sister Catherine, now 30, is scheduled to be released from the Hernando Correctional Institution later this week.
When investigators searched the crime scene back in 1999, they told the Orlando Sentinel that the siblings murdered Speights out of jealousy. The police argued that Speights had intruded on a close relationship between the children and their father, and her murder was an act of revenge.
But less than four months before the murder took place, child welfare investigators found signs that supported the teenagers’ claims that a relative had sexually abused them. The alleged abuser had been convicted of sexual assault in 1993 and lived with the Jones family, sharing a room with young Curtis.
According to confidential reports obtained by Florida Today, the state looked into the claims a few years later when it learned of three earlier investigations into the relative. But the police officials and child welfare investigators never acted on the findings.
Lawyer and Florida State University professor Paolo Annino told Florida Today that the siblings grew up in a violent home and weren’t aware of their actions. "This is a case in which all the systems failed these kids," Annino said. "They were oblivious to all the red flags."
In 2009, Catherine Jones told Florida Today that she couldn’t wait to be reunited with her brother. "We're best friends," she said. "Nobody understands what you go through in here except someone else that has been in here."
She said she takes responsibility for the murder, but wishes a more thorough investigation had been done on the sexual abuse before the sentences were made.
"I think the charges and the sentence was excessive," she said. "Taking our lives wasn't going to bring hers back."