LARGO — The night after a police officer was killed and Nicholas Lindsey was arrested, his parents urged him to tell detectives everything. The 16-year-old then admitted he shot St. Petersburg police Officer David S. Crawford.
The family united in court again Thursday when Lindsey's parents took the witness stand in a bid to save their son from spending the rest of his life in prison.
Deneen Sweat and Nicholas Lindsey Sr. spoke of their son's regrets and sorrows over Crawford's death. They recounted how he cried as he confessed and tried to explain how scared he was growing up in a rough neighborhood.
Today, jurors will consider not only those words, but also the five bullets that Lindsey fired into Crawford's body and how the teenager sprinted away as the veteran officer lay dying on the asphalt.
The prosecution presented about 20 witnesses. The defense put on two: Lindsey's parents. Closing arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. today, meaning one of Pinellas County's highest-profile murder trials in years could quickly be at an end.
Jurors don't have to determine whether Lindsey killed Crawford because defense attorneys Dyril Flanagan and Frank McDermott already conceded that he did.
The state put on a strong case: Witnesses described the shooting. They put Lindsey downtown at the time of the murder. One witness said he saw him running through downtown carrying a gun. And, most importantly, the teen confessed on videotape.
But jurors still need to decide if Crawford's death was manslaughter or murder. McDermott said in his opening statement that Lindsey fired the first shot accidentally and fired the rest in a panic.
Prosecutors today are expected to argue that Lindsey killed Crawford on purpose after the teen tried to break into a car. And that Lindsey is not the "scared child" portrayed by the defense, but rather "the man" who killed Crawford.
Linsdey is 17 now. He is being tried as an adult and would face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of first-degree murder.
If he's convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter of a law enforcement officer, he could get 30 years.
In testimony Thursday, Sweat said her son grew up in Bethel Heights, where gunshots were common and neighborhood gangs targeted him.
The mother recalled being summoned to a 2010 youth football game. When she got there a large group of young males were menacing her son. The presence of adults, football coaches, even officers could not run them off.
"They were telling Nicholas they were going to get him," Sweat said, "and there was nothing he could do about it."
Then the phone threats started.
"They said they were going to get him whenever they saw him," she said.
Lindsey also was jumped after school by neighborhood youths called the "New Orleans Boys," the mother said, and attacked during the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade.
The beatings left Lindsey frightened, the mother said.
"He was scared," she said, "because he didn't want to go anywhere by himself."
The only reason suggested for the fights was the rivalry between St. Petersburg's many neighborhood gangs.
The defense did not explain Thursday exactly how these fears might have played into Lindsey's decision to wield a gun. That could come during closing arguments today, when the defense will have to weave the parents' statements together to show the jury that Lindsey did not intend to kill that night. Both parents said Thursday that they had no idea Lindsey had a gun.
Although Lindsey may have gotten roughed up in fights, Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett also pushed the mother to acknowledge Lindsey wasn't alone during those brawls — and that he wasn't the only target.
"So it wasn't just Nick they were fighting with," the prosecutor said. "It was this group against this group.
"You make it sound like it was Nick they singled out, but it was a group of kids."
The jury also never heard evidence that Lindsey belonged to a local gang himself, the Bethel Heights Boys.
Lindsey's mother said she had never seen her son as emotional as he was in the interrogation room, where the parents helped police elicit their son's confession.
"He was scared," she said. "He was just like a newborn baby again. He was scared and he said he did not want to die."
About 20 officers appeared in court on Thursday, most of them in plainclothes. By order of the judge, only two could appear in uniform. They were police Chief Chuck Harmon and Crawford's good friend Officer Stu Crisco. They sat in the front row with Crawford's widow, Donna.
After testifying, Lindsey's father said he was sorry for the suffering the officer's family has endured.
"It destroys both families," he said.