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Death row inmate files lawsuit for release

(ran North edition)

A death row inmate awaiting resentencing for killing a teenager in Land O'Lakes is asking a judge to release him, claiming he is being held illegally.

Lawrence Joey Smith, 27, was convicted of the September 1999 murder of 17-year-old Robert Crawford and the attempted murder of Stephen Tuttle, then 16, in what investigators said was retaliation for a botched drug buy.

Smith has been on death row since his conviction and sentencing. Although the state Supreme Court upheld his conviction on appeal, the justices ruled he had to be resentenced, either to life in prison or death, on the murder case because a judge misstated the guidelines he was being sentenced under.

Smith's latest move is a handwritten civil suit he filed in Circuit Court on Tuesday on his own behalf, without an attorney, asking the court to release him.

"The Florida Supreme Court has vacated the previously imposed sentence with remand to this court for a new sentencing proceeding, technically leaving this defendant unsentenced," Smith wrote.

Smith, however, was also sentenced to life in prison. That sentence has been upheld by the Supreme Court, which rejected complaints that potential jurors didn't take an oath before being questioned about their ability to serve on a jury.

Prosecutor Phil Van Allen said Wednesday the complaint must be reviewed by a judge, which will weigh the merits and decide if prosecutors should be required to defend keeping Smith in prison. The judge can also dismiss the complaint without a hearing.

The case was put before Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb, who is expected to review it within the next week.

Smith is being held on death row at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.