'Heinous, atrocious and cruel': Judge gives life in bloody massacre of 13-year-old cheerleader

A judge in a St. Johns County courtroom in Florida on Friday sentenced 16-year-old Aiden Fucci to life in prison for the first-degree murder of 13-year-old cheerleader Tristyn Bailey, his friend and classmate, in a case that drew national attention because of the brutality of the killing and the ages of the victim and perpetrator.

“Heinous, atrocious and cruel,” a crime orchestrated for no other reason than to feel what it’s like to kill someone. This factor alone is why Judge. R. Lee Smith said there could be only one appropriate sentence for Fucci: life in prison.

It wasn’t about greed, retaliation, revenge, rejection or some fit of uncontrollable anger, Smith said in court Friday. “This crime had no motive.”

"It was done for no other reason than to satisfy this defendant’s internal desire to feel what it was like to kill someone," the judge said. "It was committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner without any pretense for moral or legal justification."

He said his court has seen its share of autopsy photos, but these were particularly difficult. He repeated what has become common knowledge in the case, that Tristyn endured 114 stab wounds, 49 of which were deemed defensive according to the medical examiner.

“She suffered a painful, horrifying death from someone that she trusted," the judge said.

Fucci had told friends he was going to kill someone and even talked about taking them into the woods, Smith said. He wanted to watch them bleed out.

"There was a heightened level of premeditation in this case,” the judge said.

Fucci pleaded guilty last month to first-degree murder in Tristyn's stabbing death on Mother's Day in 2021.

The sentence comes after two days of testimony before Judge R. Lee Smith, including hours of heart-wrenching victim impact statements Wednesday from Tristyn's parents, grandmother, best friend and siblings, including her older sister, Alexis Bailey, who began her statement by dropping into a jar 114 aqua stone hearts — one for each of the stab wounds Tristyn endured at the hands of Fucci, then just 14 years old.

Aiden Fucci, 16, is walked through the courtroom to a holding area prior to his sentencing Friday, March 24, 2023. Fucci was in the St. Johns County Courthouse for sentencing by Judge R. Lee Smith after he pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey.
Aiden Fucci, 16, is walked through the courtroom to a holding area prior to his sentencing Friday, March 24, 2023. Fucci was in the St. Johns County Courthouse for sentencing by Judge R. Lee Smith after he pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey.

Speaking on behalf of Fucci, his grandmother, Deborah Spiwak, told the judge Wednesday that she knew her grandson had to be punished for his actions, but she pleaded: "Please don't take him out of our lives forever. ... I know there's some good in Aiden."

Because Fucci is a juvenile, an automatic life sentence was not an option. Instead, the teen faced a minimum of 40 years to life in prison. After Fucci serves 25 years of a life term, the judge can review the possibility of a lighter sentence, according to Florida law. But 40 years would still be the minimum.

“I would submit this case was the most difficult and shocking that this county has dealt with,” Smith said.

To the Bailey family, he noted their obvious struggles coping with such devastation.

“The loss in which you have clearly suffered is unimaginable,” he said.

“However, her spirit lives on through each and every one of you,” he said, and advised them to fill her physical void by letting go of some of their anger. “She would want that happiness and laughter to return.”

Fucci, much like he’s done throughout the court proceedings, showed little reaction. The Baileys hugged and later addressed the media. They wore tops emblazoned with "That's My Squad" in Tristyn’s favorite color aqua and "Tristyn Bailey Strong."

“We are very appreciative of this outcome and feel like it is the right verdict,” Tristyn’s father, Forrest Bailey, said.

Day 2: Sentencing phase on for Aiden Fucci, 16, who stabbed 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey 114 times

Day 1: Sentencing hearing begins in death of Tristyn Bailey, stabbed in Florida in 2021

What happened to Tristyn Bailey?

Tristyn Bailey, a 13-year-old cheerleader in St. Johns County, was killed on May 9, 2021.
Tristyn Bailey, a 13-year-old cheerleader in St. Johns County, was killed on May 9, 2021.

Tristyn was reported missing by her family at 10 a.m. on May 9, 2021. Evidence revealed that she and Aiden Fucci had been at a friend's home in their Durbin Crossing neighborhood in northwest St. Johns County and were last seen walking together after 1 a.m. that morning. Seventeen hours later, her body was discovered in the woods off a neighborhood cul-de-sac.

What happened to Tristyn Bailey? Here's everything you need to know

How did Tristyn Bailey die?

According to Chief Medical Examiner Predrag Bulic, the cause of Tristyn's death was "sharp force trauma by stabbing." An autopsy revealed Tristyn had 114 "stab or cutting wounds about her head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands and back," according to an unredacted warrant affidavit released by the state attorney. Forty-nine of those wounds were found to be defensive wounds.

Timeline: Events in the disappearance, death of Tristyn Bailey

Saturday, May 8, 2021

  • 11:45 p.m.: Bailey family returns home after an evening out.

  • Around midnight: Tristyn Bailey is last seen by a sibling and is supposed to be sleeping in her bedroom.

Sunday, May 9

  • 12:30 a.m.: Video shows Tristyn walking in the neighborhood.

  • 1:14 a.m.: Two people, believed to be Tristyn and Aiden, are seen walking together.

  • 1:45 a.m.: Video evidence from a home shows Tristyn and Aiden walking east on Saddlestone Drive.

  • 3:30 a.m.: Video from the same home shows a person believed to be Aiden heading in opposite direction, alone, carrying white Nike shoes. Moments later, video shows Aiden entering his home carrying white Nike shoes.

  • 10 a.m.: Tristyn's mother calls 911 to report the teen missing. Florida Department of Law Enforcement joins the search.

  • 4:49 p.m.: Florida Missing Child Alert is issued for Tristyn.

  • 6:06 p.m.: A resident who had been on a run called to report a body in the woods east of the cul-de-sac on Saddlestone Drive. After identifying the body as Tristyn's, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office calls off the search.

  • 8 p.m.: Sheriff's Office announces a body has been found and preliminarily identifies it as Tristyn's.

  • 8:49 p.m.: Aiden and his parents are placed in a St. Johns County Sheriff's Office interview room.

Monday, May 10

  • 12:44 a.m.: Investigators search Fucci home, finding a knife sheath; a pair of wet, white Nike shoes with blood on them; a T-shirt with blood on it; a white piece of paper with handwriting with possible blood on it; and a pair of wet blue denim jeans in a laundry basket. They also find blood and dirt on the drain in the bathroom sink next to Aiden's bedroom.

  • 3:30 a.m.: Aiden is arrested on charge of second-degree murder.

  • 11:30 a.m.: Sheriff's Office confirms the identity of the body found as that of Tristyn Bailey and announces the arrest of Aiden Fucci on charges of second-degree murder. (Two weeks later, Fucci was charged with first-degree murder.)

Full coverage: Aiden Fucci learns his fate after gruesome slaying of 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Aiden Fucci, 16, gets life sentence for killing classmate, cheerleader