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Trial set for man accused of shooting 2 teens

The suspect is accused of shooting two teens, killing one of them, during an aborted drug deal.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


DADE CITY -- A jury of seven men and six women, including one alternate, was seated Monday afternoon and attorneys prepared to offer opening arguments today in the case of two Land O'Lakes High School friends gunned down along State Road 54 in 1999.

Lawrence Joey Smith, 23, could be sentenced to death if he is convicted this week of first-degree murder and attempted murder in the September 1999 shootings of Robert Crawford, 17, and Stephen Tuttle, now 17.

Crawford died on the spot when he was shot once in the head. Tuttle was also shot but survived what authorities have labeled as a botched drug deal.

Prosecutor Phil Van Allen and appointed defense attorney Daniel Fernandez spent Monday grilling prospective jurors on their attitudes toward the death penalty and their ability to reach a fair verdict.

One woman, Louise Wilson of Zephyrhills, told both attorneys she felt sadness for both the victim and the accused, but could not sentence someone to die.

"I can't be the judge," she said. "I'm sorry."

She was released.

Fernandez told potential jurors they would have to put aside feelings of sympathy for Crawford's family if they are to reach an unbiased decision. Van Allen warned them that if Smith is convicted, it will be on their shoulders to decide if he should die or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Van Allen also warned jurors to expect odd noises and sights around the courthouse as the renovation of the building continues. Part of the building has already been gutted, and the courtyard has been reduced to dirt piles and and open trenches. Inside the courtroom during Monday's work, the lights briefly went out, plunging the room into pitch darkness.

"I told you," Van Allen told prospective jurors. "They'll do this all day."

According to Pasco County Sheriff's Office investigators, witnesses and prosecutors, Crawford and Tuttle agreed to buy LSD for Faunce Pearce with $1,000 he gave to the teens.

But the suppliers double-crossed them, faking a robbery and stealing the cash.

According to witnesses and investigators, Pearce, now 39, was furious when the teens went back to him empty-handed. He summoned Smith and two other men loaded the teens into a car and drove them to State Road 54, where the boys were ordered out of the car and shot in the head.

Investigators contend Smith was the gunman, but prosecutors are treating Smith and Pearce as equal participants.

It had been unclear which of the two would go to trial Monday morning because both were scheduled for the same day. Van Allen asked the judge to try Pearce first, which would give the state the best chance to get the death penalty for both. But Swanson ruled that since Smith was scheduled for last week and delayed, he should go first.

Swanson is expected to select a new trial date today for Pearce.

Smith was in court Monday, neatly dressed in a dark suit and tie, with gold wire-rimmed glasses and a fresh haircut.

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