The mother of accused cop killer Nicholas Lindsey Jr. testified today that her son was the target of violence by other teens from a rival neighborhood in the months preceding the fatal shooting of St. Petersburg police officer David Crawford.
"They said they were going to get him," said Daneen Sweat.
She also testified the family lived under the threat of frequent gunfire outside their home in the Citrus Grove Apartments a few blocks south of Tropicana Field. She said she taught her children to avoid stray bullets.
"There's random gunfire at any day," Sweat told the jury. "They know to get down on the floor, out of their beds and down on the floor."
Defense lawyers are trying to make the case that Lindsey — who was barely 16 when he shot Crawford during a confrontation near downtown St. Petersburg — lived in a constant state of fear in the weeks and months preceding that shooting and carried a gun for self defense.
There is no disagreement from both sides that Lindsey shot Crawford last year during a nighttime confrontation. The only legal question is why.
Sweat testified that following the MLK parade a month before the shooting a group of teens she identified as "The New Orleans Boys" jumped Nicholas and his friends.
Sweat said she interceded to pull him away from the brawl. "We're gonna get you, we're gonna get you," Sweat recalled the boys saying. "And your mother can't stop this."
Sweat said she grounded her son and took him to and from school to avoid further trouble.
Under cross examination, she could not explain why, if her son was living in a state of fear, he was alone on the streets more than a mile from home late at night during the fatal confrontation with officer Crawford on February 21, 2011.
Sweat and Lindsey's father, Nicholas Lindsey Sr., were both instrumental in getting their son to confess to Crawford's shooting death while he was undergoing questioning by detectives at police headquarters the night after the shooting.
"In my gut as a father I knew something wasn't right," Nicolas Lindsey Sr. testified about the night he quizzed his son at police headquarters before the confession.
Lindsey at first denied any involvement, then blamed a fictitious person as the shooter and eventually admitted he fired five bullets at Crawford. Two struck the officer's torso, one in the side and one in the back. Prosecutors say the officer fired back wildly after he was hit but didn't wound Lindsey.
A day after the shooting, Lindsey told his parents and detectives he panicked after his 380 automatic handgun "went off" when Crawford ordered him to raise his hands. Lindsey said in his taped confession Crawford then drew his own gun so he was forced to keep firing in self defense.
Sweat recalled how her son broke down sobbing when he told that part of the story to detectives.
"He was scared. He was just like newborn baby again," said Sweat. "He was scared and he said he did not want to die."
Defense attorney are relying on the so-called "scared child" defense to convince the jury that Lindsey panicked the night of the shooting and did not premeditate the murder of officer Crawford.
If jurors accept that argument, they could return a manslaughter verdict, which carries a 30 year sentence. A first degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life prison sentence. Lindsey cannot face the death penalty because of his age.
The defense has rested in the case and attorneys are working out the instructions jurors will receive before starting deliberations. Closing arguments in the case are expected to begin at 9 a.m. Friday.
Earlier in the day, the prosecution called homicide Detective Joe DeLuca to the stand. Under cross-examination this morning, Lindsey's attorney, Frank McDermott, quizzed DeLuca about the teen's demeanor when he confessed at police headquarters after the shooting Feb. 21, 2011.
DeLuca reaffirmed what jurors saw Wednesday in Lindsey's video-recorded statement: the teen cried, said he was sorry and explained that he kept shooting the officer after the gun initially "went off" because Crawford was drawing his own weapon and Lindsey "didn't want to die."
McDermott asked: "No hatred, no evil words, no spite" were expressed by Lindsey about the officer?
"No," replied DeLuca.
McDermott's defense strategy — which he revealed the first day of the trial — was to convince the 12-member jury that Lindsey acted as a "scared child" and not a cold- blooded killer when he shot Crawford.
Pinellas County Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin testified this morning that an autopsy showed three bullets penetrated Crawford's torso, one in his side and another in his back. Three of the slugs remained in the officer's body after the shooting.
Previous testimony established that Crawford returned fire during the confrontation, shooting six times, but did not hit his assailant. None of the bullets was ever recovered.