As his family quietly sobbed after the judge announced his decision, the 15-year-old boy who will now be tried as an adult for aggravated murder sat stone-faced and quiet.
Antonie Hunter Farani, who was 14 when he allegedly shot and killed JoJo Brandstatt on a West Valley golf course, was certified as an adult by 3rd District Juvenile Judge Andrew Valdez. The decision means the teen won't remain in the juvenile system, where rehabilitation is the goal and offenders are phased out at age 21.
Valdez said that while his heart went out to all who were involved in the four days of hearings and that there no winners in the "tough case," it was the decision he had to make.
"The bottom line is, it's a thug life," Valdez said. "It's robbing, stealing, drug running. That's what it is."
He told Farani that his behavior impacted so many lives, including those of his codefendants who are also facing potential sentences of life in prison. Certification as an adult means Farani could face up to life in prison without parole. Despite the severity of the possible penalty, leaving Farani in the juvenile system was "contrary to the interest of the public," Valdez said.
Brandstatt's mother, Elka Fernandez, said she sympathized with Farani's mother, but trusted the judge's decision. She said that while she's sorry that Farani won't have a childhood, her son will have no second chances, no life beyond age 18.
"I think it's sad that he has to go to prison, but I view this differently than everyone else," Fernandez said. "To you, he's a kid, but to me he's a murderer. Every second of every day I think of my son and how much I miss him."
Fernandez said that if Farani were to leave the justice system and harm someone else, sorry wouldn't be enough. She said that while it was hard to hear the details of her son's death recounted in court, revisiting that moment is nothing new for her.
"I relive that in my mind every second of every day," she said. "There's no way to describe it. I feel my son's pain, my own pain. I feel like I failed, like God's mad at me. He put this beautiful child in my life and I let him get murdered."
Fernandez said it would help her if she believed Farani felt more remorse. Those who have worked with him say he has expressed regret. His attorney Richard Van Wagoner said in court that his client once said he felt he didn't deserve to live. But he said those moments of emotion were always outside of the courtroom.
"I'm not sure (Farani) understands the complexity or gravity of (the decision)," Van Wagoner said, adding that he has "tremendous respect" for Valdez and knows he's a judge who likes to help juveniles.
Besides aggravated murder, Farani also faces two counts of aggravated kidnapping and five counts of aggravated robbery. All are first-degree felonies.
Three adults also charged in the case are facing identical charges, except they face a lesser charge of murder, a first-degree felony. Prosecutors believe Farani was the shooter, while the others had varying roles that contributed to Brandstatt's death.
Prosecutors say Brandstatt was killed because he was wearing a red shirt, the color favored by a rival gang, which enraged the younger teen.
Farani was to be transferred from a juvenile detention center to an adult jail Thursday. His arraignment is scheduled for Dec. 13.
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