Times-Union reporter Tessa Duvall interviews Marcus Wilson, an inmate at Tomoka Correctional Institution. [Bob Self/Florida Times-Union]


In creating its special report, "When Kids Kill," the Florida Times-Union wrote letters to 103 current Florida inmates from Duval County who are serving prison sentences for murder or manslaughter charges brought in connection with crimes committed before they turned 18.

The Florida Department of Correction initially provided a list last summer that included 113 Duval juveniles convicted of murder or manslaughter who were still in state custody. The Times-Union excluded eight inmates who had been convicted but were in the Duval County Jail at the time as a part of ongoing court proceedings and one who was being held in a Department of Juvenile Justice facility. Another who had been released from prison because she had served her sentence was also not contacted.

Fifty-seven of the 103 inmates wrote back, with many sharing extensive details of their lives. The Times-Union received hundreds of pages of letters as well as poetry, song lyrics and drawings.

Of the respondents, 25 completed an extensive survey the Times-Union designed with input from numerous experts in their respective fields. They included a pediatrician who works with justice-involved children, a psychology professor, a criminology professor, a child psychologist, a youth advocate who herself was incarcerated as a juvenile and a man who was originally sentenced to life in prison as a juvenile but whose sentence was later reduced to 25 years.

The 50 questions in the survey asked about the participant’s family, home life, neighborhood, school, friends, attitude and the crimes that landed them in prison. There were also open-ended questions that allowed for reflection and brainstorming. Some of the questions came from existing trauma assessments such as the Adverse Childhood Experiences screener, while others came from questions asked by a youth-advocacy group in Jacksonville called the Evac Movement.

Most participants answered every question, but a few opted to leave some blank due to pending court appearances or personal preference.

If a letter writer insisted on his or her innocence, the Times-Union did not proceed with interviews, letters or surveys. Those individuals, however, are still counted among demographic information in the data sets.

In analyzing data sets from the Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Times-Union omitted charges that were the results of vehicular accidents or drug sales in order to focus on violent crimes. The data does include felony murder charges, so some of the individuals in this story and survey were not the actual killers in their cases, though the law allows for them to be prosecuted as such.


52 percent said their crimes were committed as a part of a street beef or another crime

84 percent said they had been arrested before their murder/manslaughter charge

80 percent said they did not have some kind of mentor or role model as a kid


Editor's Note

When Kids Kill” is an extended examination of juvenile crime and punishment in Northeast Florida.

This series was produced as part of a project for the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism’s National Fellowship, in conjunction with the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

About the author

TESSA DUVALL joined The Florida Times-Union as a reporter in 2014. Her reporting focuses on the issues that affect children living in Northeast Florida, with a particular interest in juvenile justice. A Kentucky native, Duvall graduated with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and sociology from Western Kentucky University, and spent a year covering education in the dusty oil fields of West Texas before moving to the Sunshine State. And, yes, Duvall is really her name.
Email: tduvall@jacksonville.com | Phone: (904) 359-4697