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Two profiles of Nick Lindsey heard in resentencing hearing

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Published:   |   Updated: September 24, 2013 at 06:30 AM

CLEARWATER — Was Nicholas Lindsey, who shot and killed a St. Petersburg police officer in 2011, a decent kid, at heart – one who became the man of the house after his father left, who taught his little brother to read, who loved to play football?

Or was he a street thug who began smoking more than three joints a day at age 11, who repeatedly stole cars and who, even after he was sent to prison for murdering a cop, cut up a fellow inmate?

Those were the two portraits of Lindsey that emerged during testimony Monday at his resentencing hearing. At issue is whether Lindsey is capable of being rehabilitated – and, therefore, should be given a shot at parole in 25 years – or whether, for the public's sake, he should spend the rest of his life behind bars for murdering Officer David Crawford.

More than a dozen police officers crammed into a Clearwater courtroom, along with Crawford's daughter, for the hearing, which lasted more than 4 1/2 hours. Circuit Judge Thane Covert said he would issue his decision on Oct. 11.

Crawford's daughter, Amanda Crawford, told Covert she wants him to put Lindsey away for the rest of his life. She said she is still haunted by her father's death.

“This wound is not more closed than it was on Feb. 21,” 2011, the night Crawford was shot, she said.

“I just want the piece of mind to know I'll never have to walk on the streets and come across my father's killer as a free man on the same sidewalk.”

Lindsey, now 18, was originally sentenced March 23, 2012, after a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. Lindsey was 16 when he killed Crawford, a veteran police officer.

Three months after the sentence, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that giving a juvenile an automatic mandatory life sentence without any chance of parole is unconstitutional. A sentencing hearing is required. The court also mandated that other factors must be considered, including the person's mental development and background.

The high court's ruling became an issue in Lindsey's case because, under Florida law, the only possible sentences for someone convicted of first-degree murder are the death penalty or life in prison. The sentence is automatic in cases where prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

The first impression of Lindsey was given by his great-uncle Joe Lindsey, who described him as a shy kid who grew up in a dangerous neighborhood in south St. Petersburg. Two of Joe Lindsey's nephews were shot to death in the same neighborhood, he testified.

A woman who used to go to the Lindsey apartment as part of a home-based program for preschoolers spoke of his love for his younger brother. Another woman who struck up a correspondence with him after his prison sentence was handed down said he was remorseful.

“He said he wishes he could turn back time,” said Bonnie Buron, a Pinellas County wastewater treatment plant operator.

There is no doubt Lindsey's home life was less than idyllic. He was born prematurely and suffered from an array of conditions, including asthma, eczema, a heart defect and eventually, hearing loss.

While his mother was pregnant with him, his father was in jail for operating a drug house and is in prison now on drug charges. The couple, who often pushed and shoved one another, split about the time Lindsey turned 13, prosecutors said. His mother eventually lost a job as a nurse because of her cocaine use, prosecutors said.

Another issue raised Monday is whether Lindsey was at a disadvantage because of his psychological problems.

Testifying for Lindsey's defense team, forensic psychologist Richard Carpenter said he found Lindsey suffered from a mixed anxiety depressive disorder and a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. An IQ test showed Lindsey's is 77, Carpenter testified.

But Assistant State Attorney Jim Hellickson attacked Carpenter's testimony, noting that Lindsey, while in prison, scored 86 on an IQ test, a number that falls in the normal range. Lindsey has also done well on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, Hellickson said.

As for Lindsey's lingering post-traumatic stress disorder, which Carpenter attributed to Lindsey having been exposed to a murder when he was 11, Hellickson asked Carpenter if he ever checked to see whether the killing was real.

“It's not clear that it happened,” Carpenter conceded.

Assistant Public Defender Stacey Schroeder, one of Lindsey's defense attorneys, told Covert juveniles such as Lindsey are “constitutionally” different from adults, as their minds are not yet fully formed. They are impulsive and they have less of an appreciation than adults for the consequences of their actions, she said.

Sentencing a teenager to life without parole constituted cruel and unusual punishment, she argued. Even a 50-year sentence is equivalent to a life sentence, based on the life expectancy of a black male such as Lindsey, she said.

But Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe said there was nothing impulsive about the shooting.

“This was not some impulse,” McCabe said. “This was pulling the trigger five times.”

Lindsey shot Crawford five times after the officer stopped his squad car in the teen's South St. Petersburg neighborhood to question him about car break-ins in the area. The only thing Crawford had in his hand was a note pad.

“This particular crime stands out above the rest,” McCabe said. “When someone kills a police officer in a cold ... senseless fashion, that has to be viewed as an uncommon event with an uncommon penalty.”

While some witnesses and attorneys portrayed Lindsey as one worthy of a second chance Monday, prosecutors spoke of a street kid who abused marijuana and alcohol, skipped school and who had several brushes with the law, usually after he stole a car.

Lindsey got into a fight 19 days after beginning his prison sentence for killing Crawford in March 2012, Hellickson said. He spent 30 days in solitary confinement; but he continued getting in trouble, interrupting a head count of inmates in July and stabbing a fellow inmate in December. For that, he got 60 days of solitary, Hellickson said.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

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