Thursday, May 24, 2018
News Roundup

Jurors in Nicholas Lindsey murder trial wept for his parents, not for him, says forewoman in cop killer case

For a moment, jury forewoman Cynthia Gordon saw the "whimpering, snot-nosed boy" the defense had described for jurors.

The mother of three sons watched a video that showed 16-year-old Nicholas Lindsey sobbing and confessing to his parents that he was scared and didn't want to go to jail. That the gun in his hand had accidentally fired and that he had kept shooting in a panic at St. Petersburg police Officer David S. Crawford, who died the night of Feb. 21, 2011.

The taped confession showed a cop killer "dissolve into a really little boy," said Gordon, 51.

But the juror said the image that stuck with her throughout the trial was that of a stoic young man, now 17, who seemed unaffected as prosecutors called him a murderer. That impression was only reinforced when Lindsey did not react as he was declared guilty of first degree murder, she said.

Jurors didn't buy the defense's argument that Lindsey was a frightened child who hadn't intended to kill Crawford and so should be found guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter of a law enforcement officer. Nor were all of them swayed by the prosecution's attempt to prove that Lindsey had intended to kill the officer.

Friday's unanimous verdict finding Lindsey guilty of first degree murder came from the fact that there are two ways to arrive at that conviction, Gordon said.

In addition to cases in which there was premeditation, first degree murder can apply if a suspect killed while committing or escaping from another felony.

"That's what made it unanimous," Gordon said.

The night of Feb. 21, 2011, Crawford approached Lindsey after the armed teen had broken into a car in downtown St. Petersburg. Defense attorneys acknowledged the car burglary but argued that it was a separate incident from the fatal shooting.

At the start of their four hours of deliberations, a poll showed that nearly all of the 12 jurors agreed on first degree murder, Gordon said. She declined to say how many initially opposed it.

The jurors who were convinced of first degree murder — Gordon included — shared with each other the point at which each had decided that Lindsey was guilty. On Monday, Gordon would speak only about her own "turning point,'' which she said hinged on the car burglary.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he was of an age that he could tell the difference between that being okay and that being absolutely off-limits," she said, comparing Lindsey to her own sons when they were 16.

The discussion of the car burglary solidified it for the hold-outs, she said.

Had the jurors needed to find consensus on premeditated first degree murder, Gordon said, they would probably still be deliberating. She said she did not feel certain herself of that charge.

Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett, who was on the prosecution team, said it sounded as if the jury did its job.

"They reached the right verdict for the right reasons," he said.

"We were concerned about the felony murder statute," said Frank McDermott, one of the defense attorneys. Defense attorney Dyril Flanagan agreed and said he was surprised to learn there were some jurors who may have thought that Crawford's death was premeditated murder. In the taped confession in which Lindsey explained what happened when he shot Crawford, it's clear "there's nothing premeditated about this," he said.

Jurors encountered a few frustrating points but worked through them respectfully, Gordon said, without elaborating.

They cried as they deliberated, mostly out of empathy for Lindsey's parents.

"What it would feel like," she said, "to know 12 people were going to send your baby away — that was very, very hard.

"I don't think, for the most part, any of us felt that deep of an emotion about the sending away of Mr. Lindsey."

As the forewoman, Gordon coached the other jurors not to consider the sentences attached to the charges.

With the first degree murder conviction, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thane B. Covert sentenced Lindsey to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Lindsey was tried as an adult but could not be given the death sentence because he is a juvenile.

After the trial, Gordon spent the weekend reading news articles about the case and talking to her husband, who works in probation and parole for the Florida Department of Corrections. She caught up on her work as the owner of a dog-training business and vice president of St. Petersburg-based court reporters Morgan J. Morey & Associates.

Attorneys knew about her background and surprised her by still selecting her for the jury, Gordon said. But she told the court she could keep an open mind during the trial.

"I was trying not to have any preformed thoughts about it," she said.

The weekend of reflection made her feel even more secure about the verdict, Gordon said, both legally and psychologically.

"I am not responsible for his fate," she said. "We were not responsible for his fate. He was responsible for his fate. We simply carried out the law."

Times staff writers Curtis Krueger and Jamal Thalji contributed to this report. Stephanie Wang can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.

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