1. Archive

Teen describes deadly drug deal

A teen who got himself into a world of trouble, the friend who set him up, and the man accused of taking him down took their places in court Tuesday as trial began in a case that could determine whether Faunce Levon Pearce lives or dies.

As he opened his case, prosecutor Manny Garcia waved the murder weapon, a .40-caliber pistol, pantomimed the execution and stared into Pearce's eyes.

Though Garcia gave jurors an overview, surviving victim Stephen Tuttle told his own story.

In a clear voice, Tuttle testified how he tried to help set up a drug deal with $1,000 of Pearce's money in exchange for a $50 share.

But he said he was ripped off by a girl who called herself his friend and was left behind for Pearce to exact revenge.

Tuttle, 17, said he had dealt only a little marijuana before a September 1999 foray into LSD trafficking left him with a thumb-sized bullet hole in the back of his head.

His Land O'Lakes High School pal, 17-year-old Robert Crawford, joined him in the adventure but paid a higher price for the botched deal. He was killed when, investigators say, Pearce ordered a cohort to shoot both.

Tuttle testified he remembered most of the night of Sept. 13 and the early part of Sept. 14. He said a friend called him about setting up the LSD transaction for Pearce, and, using connections, he linked up with Tonya Barcomb to find a seller.

Barcomb said she went along but had no intention of helping. When she got the call, she said she and her boyfriend set to work on a scheme to steal the money, even though she considered Tuttle a friend.

With the money snatched away from Tuttle and Crawford, Barcomb said she denied involvement and sent them back to Pearce empty-handed.

Tuttle said Pearce was furious and summoned Lawrence Joey Smith, Teddy Butterfield and Heath Brittingham _ and their guns _ to help get the money back.

Garcia told the jury Pearce loaded everyone into his car and drove the teens out onto a dark stretch of State Road 54. Tuttle and Crawford were ordered out of the car, and Smith shot them both with the .40-caliber pistol.

"I was told to get out," Tuttle testified.

He said he was stepping away from the car, adjusting his ball cap, when the bullet hit the back of his skull.

"Everything went dark," he said. "I remember picking myself off the ground. . . . I woke up in the hospital."

Smith was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted murder in May. The jury recommended the death penalty. Pearce, 39, is being tried on charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder.

Butterfield testified Tuesday it was Pearce who summoned him to a Land O'Lakes home to organize the mission to get back the stolen cash. He said he was told to bring a gun.

Although Smith was the triggerman, prosecutors say an equal share of the blame belongs to Pearce, and the state is seeking the death penalty.

"But for Faunce Pearce, those boys would be living today," Garcia told jurors.

Pearce has maintained his innocence since his arrest.

On Tuesday, defense lawyer A.J. Ivie told jurors his client had no idea Smith would go berserk and shoot anyone. When the gun went off, Pearce was as surprised as everyone else in the car, and no one could be sure Smith wouldn't shoot them next.

"Everybody was terrified," Ivie said. "He was in shock, as they were, when (Smith) shot them."

Pearce's trial is scheduled to continue today, and prosecutors predict it could conclude Thursday.