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Death row inmate granted new trial

Jurors convicted Faunce Levon Pearce of plotting the shootings of two Land O'Lakes teenagers in 1999 over a soured drug deal. They recommended that he die for the crime, and a judge sent him to death row.

Now Pearce is getting another chance to prove that he is innocent. And his death sentence has been lifted - at least for now.

Pearce and his co-defendant, Lawrence Joey Smith, were convicted in the shootings of Robert Crawford, 17, and his friend Stephen Tuttle, 16. The teens had been enlisted to buy 1,000 doses of the hallucinogenic drug LSD with $1,200 of Pearce's money. But they were duped out of the cash and went back to Pearce empty-handed. Early on Sept. 14, 1999, they were taken to a dark stretch of State Road 54 before dawn and shot execution style.

Crawford died within minutes. Tuttle, who was shot in the head, plugged the wound and survived and was able to testify about the crime.

Smith, the triggerman, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2001. The Florida Supreme Court overturned his death sentence in 2004. Representing himself, he will be resentenced in January.

Pearce's conviction and death sentence were upheld in 2004.

Earlier this year, Pearce appealed again, saying his attorneys made errors in defending him. After a lengthy process, Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper finally ruled on the matter last week. She agreed with Pearce, granting him a new trial and taking him off death row.

Assistant State Attorney Phil Van Allen, who prosecuted Pearce in 2001 and argued against a new trial, said Monday that the state has not decided whether to appeal Tepper's ruling. But if Pearce proceeds to a new trial, Van Allen said, the state will again seek death.

Pearce is now represented by Richard Kiley and James Viggiano from Florida's Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, which assists death penalty clients in appeals. They could not be reached Monday.

Tepper found two problems in the legal strategy of attorneys A.J. Ivie and Mark Ware, who defended Pearce in 2001.

One, they never objected to Tuttle's testimony that Pearce forced him to perform oral sex before he was shot - a crime for which Pearce was not charged.

But Van Allen argued that the sexual battery was only part of the case pointing to Pearce's guilt.

"There was a laundry list of evidence," Van Allen said Monday.

Second, Tepper found that during Pearce's sentencing, Ivie and Ware presented no mitigating factors that might have dissuaded the jury from a death sentence.

Van Allen said Pearce waived mitigation, instructing his lawyers not to pursue it.

Dolores Crawford, Robert Crawford's grandmother, never missed a day of the 2001 trial. She thought justice was done. Reached Monday, she hadn't heard about this latest turn of events.

Earlier this year, her husband and son - Crawford's grandfather and father - passed away.

Another trial?

"I don't know if I'm up to that now," she said.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at (352) 521-6521 or moorhead@sptimes.com.

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