January 6, 1999
Port St. John, Florida
Siblings Curtis and Catherine Jones (ages 12 and 13, respectively) shoot their father’s girlfriend Sonya Speights (29) to death
Thanks to reader Cade for suggesting the topic of this article!
Curtis and Catherine waited for their father to leave the house, then fired upon Speights as she worked on a jigsaw puzzle. Catherine fired the 9mm handgun first, shooting Speights in the torso, before dropping the weapon. Curtis then picked the gun up and fired the remaining bullets into Speights.
The children dragged Speights’ body into a bathroom and placed her in a tub before wiping the blood from the dining room and hallway with bleach and other cleaning products. The siblings also attempted to stage the scene to appear as either a robbery or an accident to conceal their roles in the shooting. Curtis and Catherine placed the bloody towels in the washing machine and called those they believed might be able to provide a place to stay the night while in hiding. All those they called encouraged the siblings to call police to surrender themselves. Instead, Curtis and Catherine spent the night beneath a blanket in a vacant lot before police were alerted to their location.
The siblings were permitted to speak with their father after their arrests. “He is devastated,” Sgt. Glenn Evers spoke of the father. “He’s lost the woman he was intending to marry and his children – if not forever, at least for a very long time. He has lost it all.”
Curtis and Catherine were charged as adults with first-degree murder. Investigators suggested the children had killed Speights out of jealousy. “At one time they had been a trio,” Brevard County Sheriff’s Agent Todd Goodyear told reporters, “sort of like the ‘Three Amigos.’ Now they were a foursome, and they were resentful and jealous of that fact.” The investigators believed the siblings had plotted the shooting for two weeks before they acted, and, based on the children’s accounts, Catherine had been the one to formulate the plan while Curtis was a willing participant.
Both Curtis and Catherine pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, accepting a lesser charge to avoid a possible life sentence. Each was sentenced to 18 years in prison with probation for life. Because the children accepted the plea agreement, there was no trial and, consequently, no evidence was brought forth on their behalf to explain their actions, specifically allegations regarding long-term sexual abuse perpetrated by a family member. Curtis and Catherine’s mother had left the family in 1989 following alleged abuse at the hands of the children’s father. He refused to relinquish custody of the children and they remained with him while their mother moved to another state. Eventually, a family member, who was convicted in 1993 of sexual assault against his girlfriend’s 14-year-old daughter, began to stay with family, during which time he sexually abused both children.
The defense teams for both Jones children found documentation showing the family had been investigated for child abuse on three separate occasions by child welfare services. No further actions were taken in their cases, however. “This is a case, in which all the systems failed these kids,” Pablo Annino, a lawyer and Florida State University professor, said of Curtis and Catherine’s cases. “They were oblivious to all the red flags. DCF [the Department of Children and Families] is who I ultimately blame. They totally failed to properly investigate the case. If they had don’t that, there would not have been a murder.”
Curtis’ attorney Alan Landman expressed a similar sentiment. “It is somewhat haunting to me that there was a world of horrors that this child was growing up in that was never explored. As a lawyer, we are only as effective as the information given to us by our clients or that which we can glean from the charges and the discovery received by the State. There was absolutely no indication in the entire case of what was truly going on behind the scenes and in this life of Curtis and his sister.”
“Knowing that my mother suffered such a violent death only makes it harder for me to cope with the fact that she is gone and my child will never get to meet his grandmother,” Speights’ younger daughter, who was 8 at the time of the murder, told reporters. “I remember everything about my mother. Not a day went by that I didn’t wish that my mother was here with my sister and I.
“I’m not saying that they weren’t abused, and if they were I’m sorry that they had to go through with that, but my mother was not the abuser, so why kill her?”
The plot to kill Speights had originally also included the murders of the siblings’ abuser as well as their father; Catherine stated she and her brother believed their father and Speights had not taken their claims of abuse seriously which fostered resentment. Catherine also stated during an interview in 2015 that she felt safer within the justice system than her home. “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.”
Both Curtis and Catherine were released in 2015.
Torres, John A. “Jailed at 12, youngest convicted killer now free at 29.” USA Today. July 28, 2015. Updated: July 31, 2015. Accessed: July 5, 2021. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/07/28/young-killer-released-prison/30777929/
Ortiz, Erik. “America’s Youngest Convicted Murderers Are Being Released.” NBC News. July 27, 2015. Accessed: January 5, 2021. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/americas-youngest-convicted-murderers-held-1999-slaying-be-released-n398311
Torres, John A. “Mother murdered 16 years ago, daughters still ask why.” Florida Today. January 14, 2015. Updated: July 22, 2015. Accessed: January 6, 2021. https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/2015/01/14/mother-murdered-years-ago-daughters-still-ask/21775449/
Torres, John A. “Documents unveil history of abuse for young Brevard killers.” Florida Today. January 12, 2015. Updated: August 1, 2015. Accessed: January 6, 2021. https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/2015/01/12/documents-unveil-history–abuse–young-brevard-killers/21646415/
Torres, John A. “Is a fresh start possible for young Brevard killer?” Florida Today. January 1, 2015. Updated: August 1, 2015. Accessed: January 6, 2021. https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/2015/01/10/fresh-start-possible-young-brevard-killer/21547895/
Bumpus-Hooper. Lynne. “Kids held in killing can have visits from parents.” The Orlando Sentinel. January 28, 1999
Bumpus-Hooper, Lynne and Sellers, Laurin. “Police: Jealous kids plotted killing.” Orlando Sentinel. January 8, 1999. Accessed: January 5, 2021. https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-1999-01-08-9901080170-story.html
“2 children charged with killing dad’s girlfriend.” Tampa Bay Times [St. Petersburg, Florida]. January 8, 1999