When Cristian Fernandez appeared for another pre-trial court hearing Monday morning, one thing was different about the 13-year-old Jacksonville murder defendant.
Guards led Fernandez in restraint-free, the first time he has been unshackled in court since the death of his 2-year-old half-brother last year.
Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper granted a motion filed by Fernandez’s new team of attorneys to remove his leg restraints and handcuffs after the matter initially came to her upon the prosecution’s request. The defense subsequently filed its motion, which Cooper granted last week, according to records obtained by the Times-Union Monday.
The controversial case has included some public criticism about how Fernandez has been handled, including the use of the restraints for the youngest person to be charged with first-degree murder in Jacksonville history.
Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel said the state didn’t object to Fernandez being restraint-free because every court appearance for him occurs in a courtroom especially set aside for his hearings. During those hearings, he interacts with no other inmates and has several guards present.
Caliel said Fernandez is neither considered a security risk nor a flight risk, which Cooper noted in her order.
Defense attorney Hank Coxe declined to comment. Coxe is among the attorneys that took over Fernandez’s defense after Public Defender Matt Shirk withdrew from the case last month.
The defense motion, signed by Coxe, states that the Florida Supreme Court has disapproved of the use of shackles to restrain juveniles during courtroom proceedings and for adults unless used to deter escape, prevent a disturbance or potential injury to people in court.
The motion notes that Fernandez, who is charged as an adult, has not demonstrated any risk of hurting himself or others. It also said he has not been disruptive and is not a flight risk.
Cooper said in her order that she was satisfied that Fernandez poses no risk if left unrestrained.
Alicia Torres, a local mother who has helped lead a movement to return Fernandez to juvenile court and eventually free him, applauded the order.
“I’m excited. It’s one piece of good news,” Torres said.
Fernandez’s next court appearance is set for March 7.