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Teenager who killed St. Petersburg police officer will spend life in prison with no parole

Amanda Crawford, right, daughter of St. Petersburg police Officer David Crawford, gives a little smile to those who are trying to comfort her as she leaves the courtroom.
Published Oct. 12, 2013

LARGO — The teenager who shot and killed a St. Petersburg police officer in 2011 should spend the rest of his life in prison, without the possibility of parole, a judge ruled Friday.

Attorneys for Nicholas Lindsey, now 18, argued that he deserved a chance to be freed sometime in his lifetime based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said juveniles who kill shouldn't automatically be sentenced to life without parole. Lindsey had just turned 16 when he shot and killed Officer David S. Crawford.

In an especially detailed 27-page ruling that he read aloud for more than an hour, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thane Covert determined that Lindsey does deserve to be in prison for life.

Covert called the case tragic because "a police officer lost his life … his family, colleagues and friends lost a valued individual."

"It is also tragic because this young man has lost the ability to live his life freely," Covert said. "The defendant will never have freedom again and will die in prison."

But the callous and senseless nature of Lindsey's crime "overwhelmingly outweighs any extenuating effects of youthful characteristics," the judge said.

"I think justice was served," said Crawford's daughter, Amanda. "I'm glad it's over and it just kind of proves to me that he's an animal because he sat there smiling."

Lindsey wore headphones to help him listen to Friday's proceedings because he has some hearing impairment. But after an hour or so, he took them off and hung his head.

After Covert said Lindsey would die in prison, a woman in the back of the courtroom screamed and left. Lindsey looked up at the ceiling, rubbed his chin and smiled.

Covert offered a detailed recounting of the crime as he explained his decision.

Lindsey, who had previous arrests for burglary and auto theft, broke into a white Dodge Neon on Feb. 21, 2011, and used a screwdriver to try to start it.

When Crawford went to confront Lindsey in downtown St. Petersburg, the officer held only a notebook.

Lindsey pulled out a gun he had bought for $140 and shot Crawford five times.

In his order, Covert rejected defense arguments designed to show Lindsey was less "culpable" for the crime and rejected the idea that Lindsey has a good chance of being rehabilitated.

Covert agreed that Lindsey grew up in a troubled neighborhood, exposed to violence and substance abuse. But that, he said, does not directly account for Lindsey's history of breaking into cars, plus "procuring a firearm and murder." And while a psychologist said Lindsey probably carried a gun for protection in his rough neighborhood, Covert said that did not explain why he took the gun out of his neighborhood and to the crime scene.

Lindsey's attorneys had said he acted impulsively, not fully appreciating the consequences. These are considered hallmarks of youthful decisionmaking which courts must take into account under the recent Supreme Court ruling. But Covert said Lindsey had not been tested for these specific problems in reasoning.

Beyond that, Covert said there was evidence that Lindsey's crime was not a sudden impulsive act, but one that took thought and planning.

The judge said Lindsey used a broken brick and a screwdriver in his auto burglary, and carried the gun. Lindsey "was prepared to use this weapon against anyone who stood to prevent his crime or escape," the judge said.

Especially significant, Covert said, were Lindsey's own words after his arrest. Lindsey initially blamed a fictitious person, but eventually admitted guilt.

"He further admitted that he shot at Officer Crawford until his gun was empty — he did not shoot once and then run away," Covert wrote.

Lindsey showed a pattern of criminal activity leading up to the murder, and while in prison cut another inmate's face with a sharp object, Covert said. This "shows the defendant still engages in violent behavior and has a propensity to use weapons," he said.

A jury convicted Lindsey last year of first-degree murder. He was given the only sentence legally possible in Florida at that time: life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But then the high court ruled that people under 18, even killers, can't get that sentence automatically. Instead, officials must consider such matters as the youth's mental development, life background, potential for rehabilitation and other factors. Afterward, a judge can still give the life-without-parole sentence.

Prosecutors maintained that Lindsey is exactly the kind of killer who deserves life without parole.

"When someone kills a police officer in a cold-blooded, senseless fashion, that has to be viewed as an uncommon event that requires an uncommon penalty," Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe said at a hearing last month.

Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger noted that the case already is on appeal, and said the Florida Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case similar to Lindsey's.

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