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Romano: For Nicholas Lindsey, the harshest sentence is the just one

Nicholas Lindsey, 18, faces life in prison with no parole.

Nicholas Lindsey, 18, faces life in prison with no parole.

He should have been in an algebra class.

That was the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw Nicholas Lindsey sitting behind a table in a courtroom on a rainy Monday morning.

He should have been thinking about grades, girls and whatever else races through the head of a typical 18-year-old guy these days. He should have been making plans with his friends for that evening, and letting the older folks fret about tomorrow.

Instead, Lindsey sat behind that table and listened to others calmly discuss whether he should spend the rest of his life in prison.

Throughout this new sentencing hearing, the young man showed almost no emotion. There was no way to tell whether he was optimistic about his chances or resigned to his fate. Maybe he will be eligible for release in 25 years or more, or maybe he will remain locked up with no chance for parole.

As the lawyers made their arguments for this teenage cop killer, I decided I was sure about only two things:

The first is that the U.S. Supreme Court absolutely made the correct call last year.

The court ruled that states cannot pass laws requiring a mandatory life sentence for a juvenile convicted of murder. The ruling did not ban the possibility of a life sentence, it simply removed the mandatory part of the equation for offenders such as Lindsey.

As part of her majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan gracefully explained the hopeless vulnerability of children to their surroundings, and the underdeveloped sense of responsibility that often brings them to court.

Because mandatory sentences remove the consideration of nuance or extenuating circumstances, they fail to acknowledge that children are vastly different from adults.

The second thing I'm sure of? Lindsey still deserves a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

If you think I am being too harsh, I do not blame you. There are no simple answers in this case, and I do not envy Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thane Covert, who is scheduled to issue his ruling in two weeks.

But in listening to the testimony and the arguments, it did not seem as if the theories about Lindsey's path to murder outweighed the cold, hard facts of the case.

It is true that he lived in a rough neighborhood. And it is true he did not have the most stable of environments at home. It was even suggested by a psychologist that Lindsey suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder based on violence he witnessed as a child.

And as the Supreme Court ruling suggests, we should look carefully at the nature of juvenile offenses. Was age a factor in the crime, or was it simply a tragic detail?

I think Lindsey is on the wrong side of that argument.

Even though he was 16 at the time of the murder, this was not the first time he had tried to break into a car. And it was not the first time he was approached by a police officer. He knew the risks, and he understood the consequences.

It was his decision to carry a gun, and it was his choice to fire five bullets at a St. Petersburg police officer who held only a notebook in his hand.

We will never know for certain what caused Lindsey to point a gun at David S. Crawford more than two years ago. We don't know if it was fear, impulsiveness, recklessness or simply a lack of compassion or humanity.

All we know for certain is a killer was sentenced to life without parole last year. And then, as now, it felt like justice.

Romano: For Nicholas Lindsey, the harshest sentence is the just one 09/25/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 10:50pm]
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