In 1999, Curtis Jones was barely out of elementary school when he was sent to prison. The Florida preteen was just 12 years old when he was convicted of killing his father's girlfriend. Now, at 29, Jones is leaving prison a grown man — and, seemingly, a changed one.
Jones' murder case was chilling yet heartbreaking. When he was 12 years old, Jones and his 13-year-old sister, Catherine, fatally shot their father's girlfriend, Sonya Nicole Speights, in a plot to kill their family for alleged child abuse. The siblings were charged with first-degree murder, but eventually struck a deal, pleading guilty to second-degree murder. Curtis and his sister were sentenced to 18 years in prison, followed by a life on probation.
When he entered the South Bay Correctional Facility in 1999, Jones was the youngest person ever to be charged with first-degree murder as an adult. Most of Curtis and his sister's lives — childhood and adulthood — have been spent behind prison walls.
Just after 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Curtis walked out of that Florida prison where he came of age. Catherine is expected to be released on Saturday, according to Florida Today. They enter a world in which they must learn how to live as free adults.
"After spending all of my teenage years and most of my young adulthood behind bars, I'm being released into a foreign society so different from what I left behind," Catherine told Florida Today in a letter last year.
For years, most of the details about the Jones' murder case remained vague. At the time of their arrest, local news outlets reported that the siblings carried out the murder because of jealousy.
According to a 1999 report by The Orlando Sentinel, Brevard County sheriff's investigators said the motive stemmed from their father wanting to marry Sonya Nicole Speights. "At one time they had been a trio, sort of like the 'Three Amigos.' Now they were a foursome, and they were resentful and jealous of the fact," sheriff's Agent Todd Goodyear told the paper at the time.
It wasn't until a reporter from Florida Today contacted Catherine in 2009 that the siblings' harrowing story of sexual abuse by their own family members came to public attention. According to a report from 2009, child welfare services conducted several investigations of the Jones' household prior to the 1999 shooting. State documents revealed that investigators looked into claims of child sexual abuse and molestation, as well as physical abuse.
Florida Today also reported that a 1996 investigation was opened after Curtis Jones suffered a bruised eye. Yet the state reportedly did nothing about the alleged sexual abuse after all these investigations.
In 2009, Catherine told reporter John A. Torres that both she and her brother were not safe from abuse by an unidentified family member who lived in their household. The family member had a history of child molestation, having been previously convicted of sexual assault of a minor. "He did everything but penetration," Catherine said. "It wasn't rape, but it was touching and fondling and oral sex, he would make me perform oral sex to the point where I would throw up."
Catherine told Torres that she tried telling her father and his girlfriend, Sonya Nicole Speights, about the sexual abuse, but no one believed her: "He didn't believe me at that time, and it felt like he was taking sides, like he chose his [relative] over me."
The siblings' have said their harrowing past is what triggered their murder plot, which they saw as a way to get away from the abuse. They had plans to murder their father and the abuser as well, but reportedly abandoned it once they realized what they had done.
Now, Curtis and Catherine Jones are ready to be new people. According to CNN affiliate WFTV, Curtis became an ordained minister while in prison, while Catherine married a man she connected with through letters. Both are prepared to start a new life at age 29 and 30, respectively.
Image: screenshot/Florida Today