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Focus now on murder suspect

Since his 1999 arrest, Faunce Levon Pearce has been pointing the finger at someone else for the murder of which he is accused.

Then this year, he poked his finger into someone else's murder case.

Today prosecutors turn the tables and point the finger back at him as they seek a conviction and the death penalty for a killing blamed on a botched drug deal.

Pearce, 39, is charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder in the Sept. 14, 1999, shootings of Stephen Tuttle, then 16, and Robert Crawford, a 17-year-old who died on the spot along State Road 54.

Investigators say Pearce enlisted the Land O'Lakes High School teens to buy $1,000 worth of LSD for him. When the teens' acquaintances duped them and ripped them off, they went back to Pearce empty handed.

Authorities say Pearce, enraged, held them at gunpoint, then summoned Lawrence Joey Smith and two others to provide muscle. Pearce drove them to a dark spot along SR 54, and as they got out of the car one by one, Smith shot them in the head.

Smith, the gunman, was convicted in May of first-degree murder and is awaiting Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson's ruling to see if he will go to prison for life or will be sentenced to death.

Under Florida's criminal law statutes, Pearce is accused of orchestrating the shootings and is charged as if he had pulled the trigger.

Pearce _ whose first name honors a man who saved his grandfather from drowning at sea _ has pleaded not guilty and has claimed from the start he was just a pawn, afraid of Smith.

"Everything I did, I did to preserve my life," Pearce said in a 1999 interview with the Times. "Hey, I'm guilty of being selfish, but I never claimed to be a hero."

In May, Pearce went a step further. In a letter to Swanson, he urged the judge to send Smith, 24, to death row.

"Joey should be put to death for what he has done," Pearce told the judge. "This was no accident, this was an act of cold-blooded murder, and Joey shows no sign that he is in any way sorry for what he has done. Please don't let this animal back out to kill again."

A month later, Pearce moved beyond his own case and into another man's case.

Prosecutor Phil Van Allen said Pearce wrote to him and claimed he had heard statements around the Pasco County jail that would help convict another murder suspect, Jonathan Dye Jones, in an unrelated murder case.

For his part, Van Allen said at the time he had no intention of using anything Pearce offered; and in a Friday hearing on Smith's case, Van Allen said he didn't believe anything Pearce said.

Pearce's road to trial has been bumpy. He got into a dispute with his first appointed attorney, Sam Williams, and the two parted.

Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb ruled Pearce had the right to a free attorney but didn't have the right to pick and choose. When Pearce let Williams go, Cobb said he was on his own.

Five months later, Cobb relented and appointed attorney A.J. Ivie. Three months later, Pearce was complaining about him.

Cobb did not give him another new attorney.

Ivie and co-counsel Mark Ware are expected to start picking a 12-member jury and an alternate today.

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