Thursday, May 24, 2018
News Roundup

Lindsey trial: Jurors hear witness accounts of officer's shooting

LARGO — Jurors on Wednesday heard vivid memories of the night Officer David S. Crawford was shot — the flaming bursts of gunfire, the glimpses of a silver handgun, even the dirty, wet socks found in the killer's bedroom.

And prosecutors finished the day with the most powerful evidence of all: Nicholas Lindsey's confession, played on video.

State Attorney Bernie McCabe and lead defense attorney Dyril Flanagan said they believe they can finish testimony today and possibly take the case to the jury on Friday. That would be a quick end to one of the highest-profile Pinellas County trials in years.

Defense attorneys have conceded that Lindsey committed manslaughter by shooting Crawford on the night of Feb. 21, 2011. That means the trial has in many ways become a battle over what happened in Lindsey's mind, in addition to what happened with the .380-caliber weapon he held in his hand.

But prosecutors weren't taking any chances Wednesday. They rolled out witness after witness, whose testimony plotted the path Lindsey took from a car he broke into, to the shooting and back to his home.

They started with a man who said he witnessed the shooting itself.

Ashton Ware, 26, said he was walking downtown when he saw a police officer and a young black man wearing dark shorts and a hoodie. They were near the corner of Eighth Street and Second Avenue S.

The officer took out a notebook and motioned for the other person to come talk to him, Ware said.

"The guy was turning around, and in the same motion he was reaching for his waistband . . . and then he pulled out a gun and fired.

"It was like a flame came out of the barrel," he said.

"It was a bang, short pause, and then bang, bang," Ware said. At that point, Ware ran away.

Michael Ponce de Leon, owner of a downtown dance studio, said he drove up to the scene in his new Corvette. He did not see Lindsey but saw Crawford face-down on the street.

With Crawford's widow Donna, police Chief Chuck Harmon and others watching from the front row of the courtroom, Ponce de Leon explained how he approached Crawford, saying he was there to help. He kicked away Crawford's gun to prevent an accident and knelt beside him.

"As soon as I rolled him over, his eyes were basically gone," Ponce de Leon said. He could see Crawford had been shot.

Ponce de Leon was about to reach for Crawford's radio and put out a distress call, but before he could, another officer appeared.

The officer, Aaron Franklin, testified after Ponce de Leon. He said he reached to Crawford's neck to get a pulse, but felt none. Another detail he mentioned: Crawford's cigarette lighter, which had been in a chest pocket, was split in two by a bullet.

As the day progressed, prosecutors called more witnesses.

Derek Perez said he and friend Lawrence Schroeder were driving south on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street when a young man with dark shorts, a black hoodie and a white T-shirt hanging out from under the hoodie almost ran into their car. Perez noticed: "He had a silver gun hanging out of the right pocket of the hoodie."

Perez pointed out Lindsey in the courtroom, and said he was the youth he had seen.

Meanwhile, John Frazee was working with a boat on a trailer in a Tropicana Field parking lot along with his friend, Brianna Wall, when they heard two bursts of gunfire. They both decided to get out of the area quickly.

Then they saw a young black man in dark shorts and a hoodie, sprinting south toward I-175 so fast it was like he was "running for his life," as Wall put it.

St. Petersburg K-9 officer Christopher Cooper said he went to see Frazee and Wall that night, and his dog Rocco tracked someone's scent to the interstate before losing it.

Hospital worker Michelle Sinacore got off work about 10:30 p.m. and was turning onto the interstate when she saw someone sprinting over the highway. Later, when she saw news of Lindsey's arrest, she thought he "looks like the guy that ran across the street in front of me."

In Campbell Park, just south of the interstate, police found a black hoodie. It had Lindsey's DNA, a technician testified.

Nearby the Citrus Grove Apartments, where Lindsey lived, a woman named Amanda Vitunski said she saw Lindsey walking down the sidewalk. She said he was shoeless and in white socks — significant because police say Lindsey ran out of his sandals after the shooting. Both sandals were recovered and entered into evidence.

As for the socks, Detective Kenneth S. Miller said in addition to being dirty, the white socks "were extremely soaking wet to the touch" when they were found in Lindsey's bedroom the day after the shooting. The implication was that socks would be like that if someone ran through St. Petersburg, possibly over a creek, in their stocking feet.

Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.

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