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Suspect in shooting of St. Petersburg officer to face grand jury

ST. PETERSBURG — For the second time in a month, St. Petersburg has honored a fallen officer with a large funeral, a 21-gun salute and a haunting final radio call.

But next week, an entirely new process begins: the prosecution.

A grand jury is expected to convene Monday to decide whether to indict 16-year-old Nicholas Lindsey in the slaying of Officer David S. Crawford, 46. If so, the teenager would face a trial in adult court, and a possible sentence of life in prison.

While it's never certain how long the trial process might take or what the outcome will be, lawyers familiar with the system do make one prediction: a battle is looming over Lindsey's confession.

• • •

In the first police shooting that shocked St. Petersburg recently, fugitive Hydra Lacy Jr. shot and killed Sgt. Thomas Baitinger, 48, and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, 39, and wounded a deputy U.S. marshal. Because Lacy, 32, died in the Jan. 24 incident, there is no one to prosecute.

Crawford's death is a different story.

Police say Crawford stopped Lindsey while investigating a call of a suspicious person. They say Lindsey pulled out a semiautomatic weapon he had bought for $140 and fired at least four times.

Lindsey was picked up the next day and interviewed by police. Both his mother and father were present for portions of the interview. Police say Lindsey at first denied involvement, then admitted to the killing.

"He did break down and cry," St. Petersburg police Maj. Mike Kovacsev said. "He was upset because he knew he took a life and he knew he'd spend the rest of his life in prison."

There is not enough information yet to know the specifics — what Lindsey said, how much detail he gave, his demeanor, his mental state.

But whatever he said will be scrutinized by attorneys on both sides, to see if the confession can be used in court. Experts say that's routine in any case with a confession.

"Confessions are hugely useful to the prosecution," said Wayne Logan, a professor at the Florida State University College of Law. "There's hardly any more convincing evidence to a jury or to a judge. Having said that, we know lots of instances in which people falsely confessed to crimes."

In some cases, police have obtained confessions in ways that violated suspects' constitutional rights — and therefore, the confessions were thrown out.

That's one of the main reasons defense attorneys carefully look over the circumstances of confessions. "That's an attorney's job — to make sure that the constitutional protections are upheld," said criminal defense lawyer Frances Perrone.

"First, you challenge the confession," and make sure it was "free and voluntary and knowing," Clearwater lawyer George Tragos said.

Defense lawyers investigate confessions to see if the suspect was:

• Properly told of Miranda rights, including the right to an attorney.

• Coerced in any way.

• Mentally alert and capable of understanding his or her rights.

"You certainly want to put it under the microscope," said defense lawyer Jay Hebert.

It's not just defense lawyers who scrutinize confessions.

"Part of your preparation of the case for trial is to know the facts of your case," said Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett. "You have to know the circumstances under which your confession was obtained."

Even though confessions can be powerful, "a confession isn't everything," said Perrone, a former Hillsborough prosecutor. A good detective will use the confession as a springboard for more investigation, she said.

For example, she said, if the suspect says he was chatting with a friend before the crime, police will track down that friend. If he went somewhere right after a crime, police will go there. All that adds to the credibility of the confession.

Because this criminal case has barely begun, it's not possible to tell what features of Lindsey's statements might be challenged. He is being represented by the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender's Office.

In general, Tragos said, it would be easier to evaluate the constitutionality of confessions if there was a law requiring police to record them.

In this case, police spokesman Mike Puetz said, Lindsey's statements were recorded on video.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8232.

Nicholas Lindsey's grandfather dies

Lemmon Lindsey Sr., paternal grandfather of Nicholas Lindsey, died Thursday in Ocala at age 59. Services at the Alvis Summers Funeral Home in Ocala had not been set as of Friday.

Suspect in shooting of St. Petersburg officer to face grand jury 03/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 4, 2011 10:31pm]
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