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Jury suggests death penalty

In May, Faunce Levon Pearce urged a judge to sentence his partner in crime to death.

On Friday, a jury of seven women and five men overwhelmingly recommended Pearce get the same sentence.

Pearce, 39, was convicted Thursday of first-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder in the Sept. 14, 1999, shootings of Robert Crawford, 17, and Stephen Tuttle, now 17. Pearce sat with his hand on his chin and nodded slightly when the jury's decision was announced.

Gunman Lawrence Joey Smith, 24, had been summoned by Pearce to mete out punishment after the teenage drug couriers lost $1,000 of Pearce's money in a botched drug deal. Crawford died when Smith shot him in the head, but Tuttle survived a .40-caliber bullet wound and testified in the trials of both Pearce and Smith.

The jury on Friday voted 10-2 in favor of the death penalty for Pearce. The recommendation does not obligate Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson, but the judge said he is required to give the jury's work great weight as he prepares to sentence Pearce.

Pearce never fired a shot, leaving Smith to that work. But he was convicted of murder just the same, under a state law that holds the mastermind as responsible as the triggerman.

"The death of Robert Crawford occurred at the hand of Faunce Pearce as surely as if he had his hand on the trigger," Prosecutor Phil Van Allen told jurors Friday. "He controlled Joey Smith."

Pearce has maintained since his arrest that Smith was the real villain. Pearce claimed he had no intention of having the boys shot; he just wanted to scare them. When Smith fired, Pearce said he was afraid for his own life and didn't dare cross him.

On Friday, Pearce ordered his appointed defense team of A.J. Ivie and Mark Ware to say nothing on his behalf while a jury pondered his fate.

Instead, Van Allen had to argue both sides of the issue, explaining to jurors that they could consider some mitigating evidence, such as Pearce's cocaine use that night, while also insisting Pearce be put to death.

Among the factors weighing against him, Van Allen cited the cold, calculated nature of the crime, the fact that he had already seen Tuttle shot before the gun turned to Crawford, and "just the downright nastiness that Faunce Pearce used."

Pearce didn't speak to the jury Friday, but in May, after Smith was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted murder, Pearce had plenty to say.

In a letter, he urged Swanson to send Smith to death row.

"Because I am a participant and a victim myself, I feel I have the right to express my opinion in this matter!" Pearce wrote to the judge. "Yes, I was there, and, yes, not a day goes by that I don't think if I had done something different that Robert might still be alive, but then again, we might all be dead as well. . . . And given the chance, Mr. Smith will kill again."

Jurors took about an hour to recommend Pearce die for his crime.

Swanson, still considering Smith's sentence, set a Sept. 28 hearing to review any additional evidence in Pearce's sentencing.

Jurors hurried from the courtroom after recommending the death penalty, and the forewoman said they would not comment.

Alternate juror Martha Sterner sat with the jury throughout the trial but did not participate in deliberations.

Sterner said the evidence against Pearce was overwhelming and said she would have voted with the majority of the jury.

"It was the whole story," she said. "Prosecutors knew that case frontwards and backwards, and the witnesses' stories all matched."

Crawford's family left a few minutes later, mostly in silence.

Crawford's grandfather, Robert Crawford Sr., said the sentence didn't make him happy, but it did provide a just closing. As jurors walked past them, Crawford's family members whispered thanks.

The dead teen's father, Robert Crawford Jr., has declined to comment, except to thank the jurors, prosecutors and judge.