In 1999, Curtis and Catherine were the youngest people in the U.S. to be charged as adults for first-degree murder. They were 12 and 13 years old, respectively.
Some people said they killed Sonya Nicole Speights because she took attention away from them, but the two said they did it because of sexual abuse.
Catherine Jones had told her brother that a male relative had acted inappropriately while watching her shower. When the Florida Department of Children and Families decided not to investigate, Catherine planned to kill her father, her male relative, and Speights. Curtis offered to help.
The duo went after Speights because they thought she let sexual abuse keep happening. But after shooting at her nine times and hitting her four times (killing her), the children, who were only 12 and 13, realized they had made a mistake and at first said it was an accident.
Police found them after they ran away and hid in a wooded area. They were the two youngest people in U.S. history to be charged as adults with first-degree murder.
The two kids, who were facing life sentences, agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder, for which they were each given 18 years in prison and probation for the rest of their lives.
Because of the plea deal, there was no trial or testimony, so Curtis, Catherine, and their lawyers didn’t get a chance to show the documents from the authorities that would later be renamed the Department of Children and Families(DCF). Those documents showed that welfare investigators had found signs more than once that both Curtis and Catherine were being abused by a certain family member, a family member who, according to Florida law, was a registered sex offender.
Why did they stop the investigation after seeing evidence that the children were victims of sexual abuse?
The fact that the documents showing that the children were sexually abused never got to a jury probably, and unfairly, sealed the fate of the two kids, who were just acting out of self-defense. They’ve spent almost 20 years in prison, they’ll still be on probation for the rest of their lives, and they’ll still have to live with the fact that they were found guilty of murder.
Without an aggressive and competent lawyer, juveniles are often scared into taking plea deals, as was the case here. If there had been a trial, DCF documents might have shown a possible reason for what happened, which might have made prosecutors want to lower the charges.
Catherine Opens up To Tell Her Story A Decade Later
The story was never told until 2009, when Catherine agreed to meet with a reporter from Florida Today.
In the horrible story she told, her white biological mother fled for her life and left her children behind after years of domestic abuse.
The family member who is said to have abused Catherine and her brother spent six years in prison in Alabama for a robbery. He was later found guilty of having sex with a 14-year-old girl in Brevard.
Now he lived with them, and he and Curtis shared a bed. FLORIDA TODAY won’t name the family member because he was never charged in this case.
Catherine told said, “He would make me perform oral sex until I threw up.” She added that her father and Speights, who was his girlfriend at the time, did not believe her.
All of the assertions could be easily checked through records, such as child welfare reports, sheriff investigations, and school memos, which lawyer and Florida State University professor Paolo Annino used to try to get clemency for them.
When I went to see Catherine at Homestead Correctional Institution in 2009, she told me that she was willing to do anything to get away from the hell she was born into, even though she felt bad about taking a life. Even jail was a better place.