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At least one trial to start in roadside killing

The trial of one of two men charged with killing a high school student and shooting another in 1999 should start Monday.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001


DADE CITY -- After a false start last week, attorneys will try again Monday to start the trial of one of two men charged with the 1999 roadside shootings of two Land O'Lakes High School students in what authorities said was a botched drug deal.

But which of the two accused will go to trial is anyone's guess.

Prosecutor Manny Garcia said his office is ready to try either Lawrence Joey Smith, 23, who was supposed to go to trial last week, or Faunce Levon Pearce, 39, who is scheduled for trial today.

"We're ready," Garcia said Friday. "We'll have to wait and see."

Both Smith and Pearce are charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder in the September 1999 shootings of Robert Crawford, 17, and Stephen Tuttle, now 17. Investigators say Pearce gave the two $1,000 to buy LSD for him, but their contacts stole the money and sent them back empty-handed.

According to witnesses and investigators, Pearce became enraged when the teens told him they lost his money. He summoned his friend Smith and two other men, loaded the teens into a car and drove them to State Road 54 in Land O'Lakes, where they got out of the car. Smith then shot them both in the head.

Crawford died on the spot, but Tuttle survived. The state is seeking the death penalty for Smith and Pearce, if they are convicted.

Smith was supposed to go to trial last week, but when prosecutors left five potential witnesses off the list of people they may call to testify, Smith's appointed defense attorney said he couldn't go to trial without taking the statements of at least two of the witness before they took the witness stand.

Florida law requires prosecutors to provide a list of witnesses to defense attorneys before trial.

Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson delayed Smith's trial for a week, rescheduling it on the same day Pearce was supposed to go to trial.

Both Pearce and Smith have pleaded not guilty, and both men have urged their attorneys to bring their cases to trial quickly. The two have been in jail, without bail, since 1999.

Smith's family members drove to Florida from their home in Missouri for the trial last week and vowed to return this week.

Garcia said it will be up to Swanson to decide which case goes forward first.

Last week, when attorneys from both sides were trying to schedule a new trial date for Smith, it appeared the next available date to schedule a murder trial could be in July, due to a packed trial schedule and courtroom personnel vacations.

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