LARGO —- Nicholas Lindsey, the 16-year-old accused of killing a veteran St. Petersburg police officer, did not take the witness stand Tuesday as part of a two-day hearing on whether a judge should toss out videotaped statements he made about the shooting.
But his attorneys, Dyril Flanagan and Frank McDermott, accused police of manipulating Lindsey's parents into persuading him to give a videotaped confession to gunning down Officer David Crawford.
Detectives had convinced the parents, Deneen Sweat and Nicholas Lindsey Sr., that they had the teenager's shoes, one of them left behind at the scene of the shooting; a surveillance video showing him near the scene; and a hooded sweatshirt found not far from his home in the Citrus Park apartments.
With those elements they "succeeded in planting a seed as to their son's guilt," Flanagan told Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thane Covert. So on the video, he said, "you'll see two parents coming in and hammering at their son for a confession. ... This goes to the voluntariness of the confession."
"The parents were not manipulated," Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said. The video, he said, tells the story best, explaining, "This is one of those rare instances where we have the whole thing on tape."
About 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 22, two men having a cookout noticed a skinny teenager in a black hoodie skulking around a parked Dodge Neon, so they dialed 911, according to testimony in the two-day hearing on Lindsey's case. Crawford, a 25-year veteran who disliked wearing a bulletproof vest, was dispatched to investigate.
An eyewitness later told police he saw Crawford step out of his patrol car and immediately get into a gun battle with a skinny teenager in a black hoodie and jean shorts. Crawford fell, and the teenager took off running, leaving behind one Nike slip-on shoe. Police later found a second slip-on at Fourth Avenue S and a black hoodie at the Campbell Park tennis courts.
Bartlett said police collected DNA samples from the Dodge Neon and the black hoodie that match Lindsey's own DNA. Flanagan said the defense is bringing in its own DNA expert.
Police arrested Lindsey about 5 p.m. on Feb. 23 after getting a tip that someone overheard two drug dealers say that the person who killed Crawford was "Little Nick." Two detectives gave Sweat a ride to police headquarters too. She testified Monday that during the ride she asked about getting her son an attorney. The detectives testified she did not.
About 9 p.m., police allowed Sweat and the elder Lindsey to talk to their son in a room that was wired for video and audio surveillance. He told them he had been present at the shooting of Crawford but blamed the killing on a friend.
So then the parents brought in detectives to listen to his story, and all three of them signed the form indicating he had been advised of his right to remain silent and have an attorney. After hearing Lindsey's tale, the detectives said they did not believe his story because it did not match what the eyewitness saw. That's when, Bartlett said, the teenager confessed to the killing.
During Tuesday's legal arguments, Bartlett conceded two points to the defense. The prosecutor said it was true that police held Lindsey in custody for about four hours before letting his parents talk to him —- but said they did not interrogate him until after he had a chance to speak with his mother and father.
Still, during that time, two detectives did engage in what they called "small talk" with Lindsey —- including asking him where he had been the night before and why he was wearing shoes that were too small for him. Lindsey told them he'd been buying marijuana at the time Crawford was killed, and became so frightened about the helicopters and police cars racing around that he ran home and on the way lost his shoes.
Those answers, given before police had read Lindsey his rights, will not be used in court, Bartlett told the judge.
Covert said he would rule on the defense motion Dec. 2, and at that time consider whether to postpone the trial, now scheduled to begin in three weeks. If convicted Lindsey faces life in prison. His age rules out the death penalty.