Angela Corey is state attorney for Florida's 4th Circuit, where she's put children as young as 12 on trial as adults, facing life in prison — in solitary, because children can't be mixed with adult populations — without counseling, education, or any access to family.
Corey's Duval County represents 5% of the Florida population and 25% of its death penalty cases — the highest per-capita rate of capital trials in America. She also leads Florida in sending children to adult prison, based on the discredited, Clinton-era theory of "superpredators." A disproportionate amount of those children are black. Some are on trial for their first offenses.
Matt Shirk, Jacksonville's public defender, has a close relationship to Corey: he and she are former GOP running-mates for public office, he is her former intern, and she calls him "darling" in public. Before being elected public defender, Shirk had never defended a homicide case. He ran on promises of saving tax-dollars, and boasts that he doesn't use the money allocated to investigating mitigating evidence for his clients. He also has been cited for extreme professional misconduct, including sexual harassment and termination of female staff, and violating client-attorney privilege in press interviews in which he was struggling to clear his reputation after gross negligence in the defense of his underage clients.
Shirk's bumbling assistant, Refik Eler — hired to replace the experienced PDs that Shirk fired on taking office — has been repeatedly cited for failing his duty to his clients facing the death penalty (for example, "encouraging clients not to argue that they have reduced culpability due to a mental disease or defect"). Eight of Eler's clients have been sent to death row — more than any other Florida defender.
In The Nation, Jessica Pishko tells the story of Cristian Fernandez, a 12 year old child whose mother conceived him after being raped at the age of 12 herself. Corey had Fernandez tried as an adult, facing life in prison, when he was accused of murdering his two year old brother David (a murder whose culpability was very muddy). Fernandez faced life in adult prison if convicted, with at least six years in solitary, in order to segregate him from the adult prisoners, and without access to any services or education, or family (he was a ward of the state, effectively orphaned at 12).
Serving as Fernandez's defender, Shirk failed his client in every way. When Corey added a sexual molestation charge against Fernandez, Shirk allowed Fernandez to be questioned without a guardian or counsel present. Then, after Fernandez's case was taken over by pro bono counsel who were alarmed at Shirk's misconduct, Shirk continued to act as if her was Fernandez's lawyer, giving interviews in which he disclosed facts statements that Fernandez made under client-attorney privilege in an effort to minimize his incompetence.
Corey insists that nothing is wrong, that she is trying to protect the community, and that she is competent and upright. She also spent $800,000 in taxpayer dollars to build a special walkway from her office to the courthouse to protect her from potential assaults, despite the fact that no Fourth District prosecutor has ever been assaulted between the prosecutor's office and the court.
In the final moments of Juvenile Lifers, Corey can be seen watching angrily in the courtroom as Cristian receives a much lighter sentence than the one she'd sought. In 2011, Corey told a local reporter that she went to court because she "wanted to see: What does a 12-year-old who did this look like? Is he going to look like what you would envision?"
In fact, Cristian looked like a 12-year-old kid.
When I spoke with Corey, she still couldn't seem to believe that anyone cared about Cristian's case. "The problem with the juvenile system," she told me, "is that I don't think it can address the problems that create the kind of mind that can kill and rob or continue to do violent acts to other people." As for Cristian, she reiterated: "We have to do something. We have to protect the community from this young man."
Is Angela Corey the Cruelest Prosecutor in America? [Jessica Pishko/The Nation]