Two years ago on Mother's Day, one St. Johns County mother lost a daughter and another for all intents and purposes lost a son.
Nearly two years to the day that 14-year-old Aiden Fucci stabbed classmate and friend Tristyn Bailey, 13, to death in their Durbin Crossing neighborhood, Crystal Lane Smith pleaded no contest to tampering with evidence. Trying to protect him from what she perceived was his likely involvement, she scrubbed what DNA evidence determined to be blood from his jeans that morning. It was caught on their family's own video security system.
Friday, the Bailey family and the prosecution agreed with Smith and her defense team to forgo Monday's trial, much like Fucci did moments before his jury was scheduled to be selected on Feb. 6. Fucci pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
Following Smith's no-contest plea Friday in the St. Johns County Courthouse, Judge R. Lee Smith sentenced her to the agreed-upon five years of probation under the condition she serves 30 days in jail. She is credited with one day already served and can apply for early probation termination after three years. She faced up to five years in prison for the third-degree felony, according to Florida statutes.
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Smith, 37, appeared not to look in the direction of the Bailey family in the front row of the courtroom during Friday's proceedings.
Tristyn's mother, Stacy Bailey, didn't pass up the opportunity to come to the bench to address Smith: Something she said she has gone over in her head for two years.
"Would my words be ignored or would they carry weight?" she said. "Would you truly hear me and understand how your actions have devastated not only my family, our kids’ classmates, our family friends, our community and the people across the world? Do you see the hurt that you have caused by your extended family? Would you ever be able to understand the devastating pain we live through daily?
"I may never know the answer, but this is my one chance to tell the irreparable damage that you have caused by your actions that will forever be etched into our lives," Bailey continued. "I have tried to put myself in your shoes on that fateful day a thousand times, but I can’t. I can never get there because you see, I could never put someone else’s child in harm’s way for my own, no matter the consequences."
Smith's choices that she made on Mother’s Day, May 9, 2021, will haunt Bailey the rest of her life, she said.
"What I cannot understand is how you knew our child was missing, your son was the last known person to see her, and yet you see something suspicious on his jeans and try to wash it out," she said. "All of the while you did not know if our child was injured or even alive, but you did nothing to help. … At what point did you ever stop to think about Tristyn’s well-being?"
Smith, through her attorney Matthew Kachergus, expressed her sorrow and that she hopes now everyone can heal from such tragedy.
“No one with the exception of one person knew what had happened to Tristyn," Kachergus said. "Certainly Ms. Smith did not know what had occurred. She was a frantic mother trying to determine what was going on with her son. Only later was she made aware of the horrible crime that had been committed. She apologizes for any additional suffering her conduct caused the Bailey family."
With court proceedings surrounding Tristyn’s death coming to an end, he said they hope it will allow everyone affected to begin to find peace and try to heal.
Fucci, who was sentenced on March 24, never explained why he stabbed Tristyn over a hundred times, but some of his friends said he forewarned them he wanted to feel what it was like to kill someone. They didn't think he was serious though, according to court documents.
Home security video showed Smith retrieving and scrubbing a pair of jeans that Fucci had worn the day Tristyn went missing after they were hanging out. Then Smith was seen showing them to another family member before putting them back in his room. This also was after deputies had arrived at their home to question the boy, and Fucci left with them so he could show where he last saw Tristyn, according to court records.
Forensics would eventually determine the jeans contained blood.
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Tristyn was later found stabbed to death in some woods near their homes that Mother's Day. While Smith and Fucci's father questioned him in a Sheriff's Office holding room, he never revealed what actually happened, according to the investigation's video.
But Smith had suspicions and asked him if he was sure nothing was on his jeans, whispering "Blood." She had also informed him Tristyn had been found dead and he was in a lot of trouble being the last one seen with her.
She was arrested June 4, 2021, on the tampering charge and released the next day on $25,000 bond, according to jail records.
Witnesses during the presentencing phase for Fucci indicated he had a fairly normal upbringing, despite some troubles in school and potential red flags. Smith had not attended her son's court proceedings while awaiting her own trial as recommended by her attorney, but she did submit letters to the judge and the Bailey family during his sentencing phase.
Here's an excerpt: "As a mother, the love you have for your child is difficult to articulate to others, unless they're a mother themself. To be helpless to protect your child is a mother's worst living nightmare. To cope with such a loss is unimaginable. I grieve for the devastating loss of Tristyn, I grieve for the subsequent arrest of my son, and I grieve for the irreparable agony inflicted on the Bailey family, as well as all other friends and families effected. Most of all, however, I grieve for Stacy Bailey as a mother."
The Baileys said they still question her sincerity.
“Parents should always strive to teach their children integrity, honesty and responsibility,”State Attorney R.J. Larizza said of the case. “What the defendant did was not protecting her child— she was assisting him in avoiding responsibility for an extraordinarily vicious and mercilesscrime. And that is a crime in more ways than one.”
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Aiden Fucci's mom pleads no contest to tampering in Tristyn Bailey murder