Nicholas Lindsey, the teenager who shot and killed a St. Petersburg police officer who stopped to question him about a burglary, should get a new court hearing and possibly a chance at eventual freedom, his attorneys say.
A motion filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court asks a judge to schedule a new sentencing hearing for Lindsey, now 18. If the request is granted, the hearing will be a forum for defense attorneys to argue that Lindsey should get a chance at leaving prison in his lifetime.
State Attorney Bernie McCabe said Wednesday that he would argue a life sentence is appropriate for someone who committed "the execution of a police officer for no apparent reason, other than, 'I don't want to go to jail.'
"It wasn't an accident," McCabe said of the crime.
A new sentencing could revive what Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thane Covert called "a dark period in the city's history" — the night the then 16-year-old teen burglar shot Officer David S. Crawford multiple times near the corner Eighth Street and Second Avenue S.
The shooting came just 28 days after two other St. Petersburg police officers were murdered. A city that hadn't lost an officer in the line of duty in 30 years suddenly had lost three.
After his trial last year, Lindsey was given a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. It was the only legal sentence Lindsey could get because he was found guilty of first-degree murder. The death penalty cannot be used for juveniles.
But after Lindsey was sentenced to life, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison without at least considering alternatives.
Lindsey had just turned 16 when he shot Crawford multiple times after a car burglary in February 2011.
Even after the Supreme Court ruling, courts can still sentence juveniles to life, but the judges also must consider issues such as the youth's psychological and developmental background, and whether a shorter sentence would be appropriate, even for a serious crime.
The "motion to correct sentencing errors" was filed by Assistant Public Defender Carol J.Y. Wilson, who handles appeals.
Attorney Dyril Flanagan, who represented Lindsey in the trial, said he thought Lindsey was "probably a pretty good candidate for some sort of parole." Flanagan does not currently represent Lindsey, but said he might do so again along with fellow defense attorney Frank McDermott.
McCabe said he had been expecting a motion like this, because of the Supreme Court's recent ruling, which came in a case called Miller vs. Alabama.
"We intend to try to get the judge to impose the life sentence anyway and meet the dictates of Miller," McCabe said.
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The Supreme Court ruling leaves Florida in a strange position. Currently, the only legal sentence for someone under 18 who is convicted of first-degree murder is life in prison without the possibility of parole — the same sentence the Supreme Court now says is unconstitutional.
"That's the dilemma," said Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thomas McGrady, commenting on the situation as a whole, but not the Lindsey case in particular. To fashion a solution in cases like this, he said, "We're shooting in the dark."
The Florida Legislature this year considered alternative sentencing plans, but failed to pass a new law.