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Man guilty in teen's execution

Jurors deliberated less than three hours Thursday before convicting Faunce Levon Pearce of masterminding a 1999 drug deal that went awry and the ensuing revenge execution of a Land O'Lakes High School student.

Pearce, 39, was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder for the killing of Robert Crawford, 17, and the shooting of Stephen Tuttle, now 17. The same jury of seven women and five men that convicted him is scheduled to return today to decide whether to recommend the death penalty.

Pearce showed no reaction as the verdict was read.

Crawford's mother, Patty Brink, said the guilty verdicts brought her no joy, only a sense of justice. She said it doesn't matter to her if Pearce gets life in prison or the death penalty. Neither, she said, will bring her son back.

"Robert's gone," she said. "It'll never be over."

Prosecutor Phil Van Allen told jurors in his closing comments that even though another man fired the fatal shot, it was under Pearce's direction. Under the law, Pearce was just as much to blame for Crawford's death as the triggerman.

"Because of Faunce Pearce, Robert Crawford is dead," Van Allen said. "This insane series of events began with Mr. Pearce's desire to purchase $1,000 worth of illegal drugs."

The conviction marks the end of a trail that began early Sept. 14, 1999, when a trucker found Tuttle walking along a dark stretch of State Road 54, drenched in blood and using his thumb to cover a .40-caliber bullet hole in the back of his head.

Investigators found Crawford farther down the road. He was dead. A hole traced the bullet's path from the right side of his head to the left, just above the ears.

The gunshot probably rendered Crawford unconscious in seconds and dead within a few minutes, Assistant Medical Examiner Marie Hansen testified.

In the hours that followed, Pasco County sheriff's deputies began unearthing witnesses who laid out the case, and by the end of a week deputies had charged two men, Pearce and cohort Lawrence Joey Smith, 24, with the shootings.

Everything, it turned out, was set in motion when Pearce sent Tuttle and Crawford to buy $1,000 worth of LSD. The teens' friend, Tonya Barcomb, and her boyfriend acted as intermediaries, but they double-crossed the boys and stole the money by pretending they had been robbed. When the teens returned to Pearce without drugs or money, he became enraged and summoned Smith and two others as armed backup while he decided his next move.

That move came a few hours later when Pearce and his armed band drove the teens to a deserted stretch of highway and ordered Tuttle from the car. When he got out, Smith shot him in the head.

Pearce drove a few hundred yards farther, then ordered Crawford from the car. Smith shot him twice.

The first shot dropped Crawford to the ground, and witnesses testified Smith stood over him and fired a second shot, execution-style, at his head.

Smith was convicted in May of shooting both teens, and Pearce was charged with the same crimes because he orchestrated the events and was a participant in a felony that led to the shootings.

"You have not heard one shred of evidence that Faunce Pearce pulled that trigger," Van Allen told jurors. "But ladies and gentlemen, as sure as he sits at that table, he committed the crime of first-degree murder . . . It's as though he pulled the trigger himself."

Pearce's appointed defense team of A.J. Ivie and Mark Ware told jurors Pearce just wanted his money back, maybe to put a scare into the teens along the way. But Smith acted on his own when he started shooting, Ivie said, and Pearce was as surprised as anyone when the gun went off.

"There's no evidence of premeditation by Faunce Pearce," Ivie argued. "There's no evidence that he even thought these boys would be killed."

Ivie wanted to show jurors a videotaped interview between a deputy and shooting eyewitness Heath Brittingham on Wednesday, but Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson ruled the tape would have improperly cast doubt on Brittingham's credibility for events he said he couldn't recall.

The video depicts Brittingham telling investigator William Moe, days after the shootings, that Pearce appeared shocked when Smith fired the gun at Tuttle.

In his closing argument, Van Allen said even if Pearce was surprised by Tuttle's shooting, he knew full well what would happen when he stopped the car a second time and ordered Crawford out the passenger side door and into the path of Smith's pistol.

While a jury will make a recommendation and Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson will make the decision on the death penalty for the murder conviction, Pearce also faces up to 30 years in prison for the attempted murder.

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