Curtis and Catherine Jones were 12 and 13 years old when they confessed to the brutal murder of their father’s girlfriend in 1999. Now the siblings, who spent their formative years behind bars, will be released to a world far different from what they once knew.
Curtis and Catherine lived with their father in Brevard County, Florida after their natural mother — who is White — left her children behind following years of domestic abuse. “Their father wouldn’t let the children go and the mother’s family did not want them because they were half-black,” Catherine told Florida Today.
Curtis and Catherine weren’t happy living with their father for several reasons; not only were they in a small home with their dad and his live-in girlfriend, Sonya Nicole Speights, but “welfare investigators found signs on more than one occasion that the siblings were being abused by a family member. That same family member had already been convicted of sexually assaulting his girlfriend’s daughter in 1993,” Florida Today reports.
With no one in the family willing to listen to their horrifying accounts of assault, the children (13 and 12 at the time) decided to take matters into their own hands by planning to kill their father, his girlfriend, and their abuser. Via Florida Today:
On Jan. 6, 1999, their father’s girlfriend, 29-year-old Sonya Nicole Speights, was doing a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle at the dining room table when Catherine used his 9mm handgun to shoot her in the torso, police said. She dropped the weapon as it discharged. Curtis picked it up, emptying the remaining bullets into Speights.
After realizing what they’d done, the children decided not to go after their father or their abuser and lied to neighbors about the shooting. Claiming it was a robbery, the two fled into the woods, where they were captured by the police.
Without a trial, the children were charged as adults for first-degree murder. Their abuse claims weren’t acknowledged by investigators until later. The now-formed Department of Children and Families found welfare investigations — including one launched by Catherine’s middle school teacher — that pointed to signs of molestation and abuse against the children by a family member. Scared to face life in prison, the Jones’ took a 15-year deal with prosecutors and a lifetime of probation. An additional year was added to Curtis’ sentence when he was 18 for trying to escape when a prison fence fell during a storm.
At 30-years-old, Curtis will be released from a correctional facility in Central Florida. Catherine, 29, will be released on August 1 from a jail 200 miles away.
Speaking to Florida Today in 2009, Catherine said she talked to her brother weekly. He is now an ordained minister. She also spoke about her life since the shooting:
“At one point I was just so happy to be away,” she said. “I know that sounds, like, really messed up, but there was a point where I was just away from all that and I was by myself and I was safe.”
Catherine completed her high school equivalency in 2002 and married her pen pal, Senior Chief Navy Counselor Ramous K. Fleming, in 2013. The two bonded after he read her story online. He plans on retiring from the Navy to help his wife adjust to her new life outside prison, which includes learning how to drive, using the Internet, and other basic tasks.
“I’m prepared for life after,” he said. “There is a lot she has to learn but it’s very exciting at the same time. I look forward to it and I think my training in the military has prepared me for it. There will certainly be a lot of adjusting to do. I don’t want to leave her alone.”
Studies have shown more than three-quarters of prisoners return to jail within the first five years of their release. African-Americans are at the top of the list, followed by Hispanics. Released inmates also face higher rates of mental abuse and suicide.
Curtis has stayed quiet during his prison time, but Catherine says she feels closer than ever to him – even though they’ve only seen each other once since they were sent to prison.
“We’re best friends,” she said. “Nobody understands what you go through in here except someone else that has been in here.”
Investigators have yet to publicly discuss the siblings’ sexual abuse or identify the accused family member.