LARGO — The Tampa Bay area has been brutally hard-hit in recent years by fatal shootings of police officers, including three killed last year in St. Petersburg.
But of 75 people called for jury duty on Monday, nearly half said they were not familiar with one of those tragedies — the Feb. 21, 2011, shooting of St. Petersburg Officer David S. Crawford.
Others said even though they had read and watched news about the killing, they could remain open-minded if selected as jurors.
That means things are on schedule for a jury to be selected today for the murder trial against Nicholas Lindsey, the teenager accused of gunning down the police officer.
Opening statements could begin today as well.
Of the 75 people called in Monday morning, 48 remained in the pool of potential jurors when the court recessed in the late afternoon.
The people sent home included a dozen or so who said they already had formed an opinion that Lindsey was guilty.
"I know he has confessed to this," one man said. "The evidence just seems overwhelming to me," said another, who has followed the case closely. A youth worker said society had failed Lindsey, but he still believed the teen was guilty.
On the other hand, one woman said no matter what evidence was presented, she would find Lindsey not guilty. A young man said Lindsey "don't look like no killer to me." They were excused also.
Lindsey, who is 17 now and was 16 at the time of the shooting, was seated at a desk with his attorneys, facing the potential jurors. He was wearing a white dress shirt.
Crawford's close friend and colleague, Officer Stu Crisco, came to court in uniform. For a while on Monday morning, Crawford's widow, Donna, sat on a bench near Crisco, directly in front of the defense table, putting them eye-to-eye with the person accused as the killer.
Crisco stayed put, saying he could handle it. Crawford chose to leave, but was expected to return after a jury is seated.
Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe personally handled jury questioning for the prosecution on Monday, marking the first time he has tried a case since the 2007 trial in the murder of Pasco Sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison.
McCabe previously said he was unsure whether to participate in the prosecution, or to leave the job to chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett and Assistant State Attorney Jim Hellickson.
But McCabe said he recently concluded, "I've got to do it. It just came to me." McCabe said he has personally prosecuted all the cases of officers killed in the line of duty since 1972, and that it was personally important for him to do so.
Defense attorney Frank McDermott also questioned potential jurors Monday. In a possible hint at the defense strategy, he asked some about lesser crimes of which Lindsey could be found guilty.
Lindsey is charged with first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. McDermott asked about second-degree murder or manslaughter, which allow for shorter penalties. The defense is expected to spend more time questioning jurors this morning.
Police say Crawford responded to a report of a suspicious person on Feb. 21, 2011, near downtown St. Petersburg. When he tried to stop Lindsey to question him, police say, Lindsey drew a gun and shot the officer near Eighth Street and Second Avenue S.
Prosecutors are expected to show the jury a video recording that police say shows the teenager confessing.
The gun has not been found.
Times Staff Writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8232.