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A Jacksonville murder inspired a novel, and it won a major award

A Jacksonville slaying was the subject of "Murder on a Sunday Morning," an Academy Award-winning documentary.
A Jacksonville slaying was the subject of "Murder on a Sunday Morning," an Academy Award-winning documentary.

Jacksonville author Julie Delegal has been named winner of the Eric Hoffer Book Award for fiction for young adults for her novel "Seen."

"Seen" takes place in a fictional town similar to Jacksonville called Beau Rêve. However, the story was inspired by a real-life tragedy that took place here in Jacksonville.

In 2000, 15-year old Brenton Butler was arrested and charged with murder after the shooting death of Mary Ann Stephens. Brenton confessed to the crime, and the case went to trial. But during the trial he testified that he had been beaten and coerced into his confession. Brenton was acquitted, and his case went on to become the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary "Murder on a Sunday Morning."

“It’s a fast-paced courtroom drama that has some police procedural elements,” Delegal said during an appearance on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

“I come from a police family, so it inspired some conflict that I needed to resolve. The question kept occurring of how everything could go so wrong?”

In "Seen," Jason Royals, like Brenton Butler, is 15 years old when he is picked up by police officers after a Georgia tourist is shot at a nearby hotel. In the story, the woman’s traumatized husband identifies Jason as his wife’s killer. After hours in police custody and no notification of his parents, a young Jason confesses to the murder.

Delegal shed light on her writing process, saying, “Writing fiction about it, I found that I could get down to the human elements, the actual human interactions that occurred.”

She added that she was raised by a father who was a prominent homicide detective in Jacksonville who Julie says taught her “due process of law and always believed in the system.”

“I have great respect for criminal defense attorneys in our city and how they step up for our children," she said. "At the same time, these issues are so absolutely polarizing. The issues of police, mistaken identity based on race, wrongful incarceration … all of these issues tend to put us in our corners.”

Kelila Ritchie is a junior at the University of North Florida. She is majoring in mass communications with a focus in multimedia journalism. She is minoring in African American history.