LARGO — More than two dozen police officers crammed into a courtroom Monday for a hearing that brought back a haunting memory from 2011 — the murder of St. Petersburg police Officer David S. Crawford.
For the officers, this visible show of support was a tribute to the terrible loss St. Petersburg's department suffered that year when Crawford and two other officers were killed in the line of duty.
But for the court system, the hearing zeroed in on one question: Should Nicholas Lindsey, who killed when he had just turned 16, be allowed out of prison someday? Lindsey got the new sentencing hearing after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles shouldn't automatically be given life in prison without the possibility of parole — the sentence Lindsey originally received after his conviction in 2012.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thane Covert listened to evidence Monday and said he would issue his ruling on Oct. 11.
The testimony on Monday offered two different portrayals of Lindsey, and also some new revelations — such as the fact that he has been disciplined in prison for cutting another inmate and being involved in a fight.
"This defendant can mature. He is not yet past the age where the brain is fully developed. He can be rehabilitated," Assistant Public Defender Stacey Schroeder said. She asked that Lindsey be eligible for parole after 25 years.
She said the "impulsivity" of his actions in firing at Crawford were characteristic of a youth in a high-crime environment who also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Juveniles are different from adults. … Their brains function differently," Schroeder said, arguing that recent Supreme Court rulings pointing to research on brain development suggest that Lindsey should be given another chance.
But Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe said that "when someone kills a police officer in a cold-blooded, senseless fashion, that has to be viewed as an uncommon event that requires an uncommon penalty." He said the "only appropriate penalty in this case is the one the court has already imposed, life in prison without the possibility of parole."
Lindsey, while planning to break into a car near downtown on Feb. 21, 2011, observed Crawford nearby. Lindsey shot Crawford five times with a gun he had bought for $140. Lindsey had turned 16 that month.
He was convicted of first-degree murder and given the only legal sentence available at that time: life in prison without the possibility of parole.
But after the conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such an automatic sentence unconstitutional. The court relied on research showing that youths' brains are still developing into their 20s in many cases, and, therefore, their ability to make better decisions and become rehabilitated can improve as they get older.
Psychologist Richard Carpenter, a defense witness, said Lindsey had poor impulse control, an IQ around 77 and the residual effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Carpenter said that when Lindsey encountered Crawford, he probably fired impulsively and out of fear. His actions had "the hallmarks of adolescent criminality, albeit of horrendous proportions."
Carpenter and others said Lindsey also suffered from living in a high-crime neighborhood — the Citrus Grove Apartments, also known as Bethel Heights and notorious for gang activity. That's probably a key reason he was carrying a gun, Carpenter said.
"This kid did not grow up in Culbreath Isles. He grew up in one of the worst neighborhoods," Carpenter said.
Carpenter said Lindsey reported having had nightmares after seeing a murder at age 11. But under cross-examination from Assistant State Attorney James Hellickson, he acknowledged it wasn't 100 percent clear that the murder actually took place.
"So all this post-traumatic stuff could be a figment of his imagination?" Hellickson asked. Carpenter wasn't willing to go that far.
Hellickson also maintained that Lindsey knew exactly what he was doing when he shot Crawford,
St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon, who attended Lindsey's entire trial last year, took a front-row seat for the resentencing hearing. He said he wanted to show support and see Lindsey "get the appropriate sentence, and that's life."
Crawford's daughter Amanda agreed. She said her last text to him was "Be safe, Dad, I Love you. " And he instantly responded "I will sweetheart, I love you too." That was one hour before Lindsey shot him.
Now, she said, "I just want the peace of mind to know I'll never have to walk the streets and come across my father's killer as a free man."
Crawford's good friend and fellow Officer Stu Crisco told the judge that Lindsey deserved life in prison, because "no one — I mean no one — shoots another person, especially a police officer, five times accidentally. It was cold-blooded murder."
Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8232. On Twitter: @ckruegertimes.