Whether he was a scared child or a cold-blooded killer, this much is certain: 17-year-old Nicholas Lindsey Jr. will spend the rest of his life in prison.
“I hereby find you guilty as charged. I sentence you to life in prison and life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” Pinellas County District Judge Thane Covert told Lindsey on Friday evening.
A Pinellas County jury deliberated for less than four hours before finding Lindsey guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of St. Petersburg police Officer David Crawford on Feb. 21, 2011. Lindsey was stoic as the verdict was read.
Crawford’s widow, adult daughter and ex-wife, along with police Chief Chuck Harmon sat on the front row of Courtroom 1 at the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center. Off-duty St. Petersburg police officers filled the courtroom.
Members of Lindsey’s family, including mother Deneen Sweat and father Nicholas Lindsey Sr., sat on the other side of the room.
Crawford’s widow, Donna, and daughter, Amanda, spoke before the sentencing.
Donna Crawford called Lindsey an animal. “To me, justice would be for me to do to you physically what you did to my husband…
“You are not worth remembering any more after I walk out of this courtroom today except for the day I get to read your obituary.”
Amanda Crawford said she would like to have seen Lindsey get the death penalty.
“I will never see my dad or hear his voice. He was stolen from me. But Lindsey’s family will always be able to talk to him, visit him or write him…
“My dad was my hero… I no longer have my Superman,” she said.
After Covert sentenced Lindsey, he told him to reflect on this every day.
“It’s been a dark period in the city’s history,” he said. “It’s certainly a sad time in your life and your family’s life. And you are going to have to live with this for the rest of your life.”
Lindsey’s family left the courtroom in tears.
Afterward, Donna Crawford spoke with reporters. She said she was holding her husband’s wedding ring as she talked, which she wears on a chain around her neck: “I never take it off.”
She said the hardest part of the trial "was the medical examiner when they explained exactly what those five shots did to my husband.”
What about being seated in the front row during jury selection, face-to-face with Lindsey?
“it was really hard, Crawford said. "It was disheartening to sit there and he has no expression. I mean never once has he blinked has he changed. It’s blank. There’s nothing there.”
During closing arguments earlier in the day, neither the prosecution nor defense questioned whether Lindsey shot the officer during a street confrontation.
“It’s not a ‘who done it?’ ” Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe said.
The only legal dispute is why.
Lindsey’s attorney had asked the jury to consider manslaughter, rather than murder.
In his closing argument, Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett described Lindsey as a cold-blooded killer.
“The only reason he stopped shooting Officer Crawford is because he ran out of bullets,” Bartlett said.
Defense attorney Dyril Flanagan said his client was a scared child – 16 at the time – who panicked when the officer confronted him about a nearby car burglary.
“This thing got away from him,” Flanagan said. “The gun goes off. That was an accidental discharge.”
Evidence in the trial showed that five bullets from Lindsey’s .380 automatic handgun struck the 25-year police veteran moments after he confronted the teen.
“This was no accident. The gun doesn’t just go off,” Bartlett said. “Each time he pulls the trigger, that’s premeditation.”
Crawford returned fire, but all six of his shots missed Lindsey.
In a taped confession encouraged by his parents the night after the shooting and marked by wailing and sobs, Lindsey told detectives that his gun went off accidentally and he kept shooting because he was scared of dying after the officer drew a weapon.
Lindsey’s mother testified this week that she tried to protect her son against threats and beatings in the violence-ridden Citrus Grove Apartments, where they lived.
In his closing argument, Flanagan said Lindsey armed himself with a high-powered automatic handgun because he had been threatened, harassed and hunted for months by boys from rival neighborhoods.
“It’s not justified, it’s not logical, but in Nick’s mind it’s, ‘I can’t be a momma’s boy all my life,’ ” Flanagan said.
McCabe said Lindsey armed himself with a gun he bought for $130 to get “street cred.”
“Also, this momma’s boy certainly knew how to break into a car pretty quick,” McCabe said.
Flanagan conceded that Lindsey shot and killed Crawford, but based on his “scared child” defense asked the jury to return a verdict of manslaughter instead of first-degree murder.
“You saw a whimpering, snot-nosed boy for most of his confession,” Flanagan said.
Manslaughter carries a 30-year prison sentence, but first-degree murder - which requires the jury to conclude there was premeditation - brings a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole.
“He clearly made a conscious decision to kill the officer,” Bartlett said, “and he knows know his life is going to change forever.”
Crawford was the third St. Petersburg police officer who died in the line of duty in 2011.
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