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Lindsey defense: It was manslaughter, not first-degree murder

LARGO — Prosecutors rolled out their meticulous case against Nicholas Lindsey on Tuesday, a point-by-point explanation of how he confessed to killing St. Petersburg police Officer David S. Crawford, how another man saw the shooting and how the teenager left a trail of evidence as he fled.

Then defense attorneys dropped a bombshell: They conceded that Lindsey was the shooter.

The teen didn't intend to kill the officer, attorney Frank McDermott told the jury, and it wasn't murder.

When the officer asked Lindsey to show his hands, the teen pulled out his .380-caliber handgun thinking the safety was on, the lawyer said. It went off accidentally.

Crawford went for his gun, McDermott said, and Lindsey "started unjustifiably firing in a panic and in fear," and in a mistaken belief "that he's shooting for his life."

Defense attorneys want the jury to find Lindsey guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter. A manslaughter conviction involving the death of a police officer could carry a penalty of 30 years in prison or more.

But that's much less than first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.

"We are saying that Nicholas is responsible for this shooting," McDermott said.

But to understand this case, it's important to look into "the fragile mind of a scared child," he said.

"In Nicholas' mind, he didn't want to die. Now that's not a justified killing. But what it is, it's not a premeditated killing. It's something that happened in seconds. This scared child has a firearm and it accidentally goes off."

While the defense used terms such as "scared child," Assistant State Attorney Jim Hellickson pointedly referred to Lindsey as a man.

"Who was the man who shot Officer David Crawford?" Hellickson asked the jury in his opening statement Tuesday afternoon. "That man is sitting right here. That man is Nicholas Lindsey Jr."

Lindsey turned 16 just nine days before that fateful night that Crawford, responding to a call about a prowler, stopped to question the teen. Lindsey, now 17, is being tried as an adult.

The trial comes little more than a year after Crawford's Feb. 21, 2011, slaying, a shooting that shocked a city already reeling over the recent deaths of two other officers.

Lindsey appeared in court Tuesday wearing a green dress shirt and a new haircut he got over the lunch break.

Crawford's wife, Donna, sat in the front row near police Chief Chuck Harmon and other St. Petersburg police officers that included Stu Crisco, Crawford's best friend and squad mate.

"It caught me off guard that they went up there and admitted" that Lindsey shot Crawford, Crisco said later.

But, in Crisco's mind, Lindsey's actions amount to murder, not manslaughter.

Lead defense attorney Dyril Flanagan said a manslaughter charge was more appropriate than first-degree murder.

Jurors will hear Lindsey's video-recorded interview with police the night after the shooting, Flanagan said, and the teen's statement fits a manslaughter verdict.

In the prosecution's opening statement, Hellickson painted a more calculating view of the slaying than one of a scared and panicked teenager scarred by gang violence in his neighborhood.

Lindsey shot Crawford five times, the prosecutor said, taking the time to carefully describe the path of each bullet.

Afterward, he said, Lindsey ran, leaving the veteran lawman "lying in a pool of his own blood."

In addition to the fact that Lindsey pulled the trigger, the prosecution and defense agreed on something else: The killing was wrong.

"It was inexcusable, it was unjustified, and it was unlawful," McDermott said.

Testimony resumes today.

Times photojournalists Scott Keeler and Joseph Garnett contributed to this report.

Lindsey defense: It was manslaughter, not first-degree murder 03/20/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 11:53pm]

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