Thursday, March 13, 2008

Jury Recommends Death Sentence

By TODD LESKANIC, The Tampa Tribune

Published: March 5, 2008

DADE CITY - Lawrence Joey Smith's claims of repentance failed to convince a jury he deserves to live.

The panel of seven women and five men spent four hours deliberating Tuesday before recommending Smith die by lethal injection for the 1999 murder of 17-year-old Robert Crawford.

The vote was 7-5.

Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper has final sentencing authority, but the law requires her to give the jury's recommendation "great weight" in deciding whether Smith dies or spends the rest of his life in prison.

Tepper will hear additional legal arguments and testimony at a hearing March 13. She'll announce Smith's sentence April 22.

Given the chance to speak Tuesday after the jury recommendation, Crawford's sisters urged Tepper to return Smith to death row, to which he was first sentenced in 2001.

Katie Crawford, 27, detailed the pain her brother's death has caused her family.

"My life and my family's life have been severely devastated," she said through tears. "It will be nine years this year, and it still feels like yesterday. There are moments of my day I miss him so terribly much that I cannot breathe.

"It feels like the oxygen has been taken from my lungs. The pain I feel when I think of my brother's last moments will haunt me forever."

Lisa Crawford, 28, told Tepper she has post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, all stemming from her brother's murder. She ripped Smith for his lack of emotion and his failure to apologize or show remorse for the murder.

"The only thing he regrets is that he got caught - a true sign of a sociopath," she said.

Smith shot and killed Crawford and wounded Stephen Tuttle, then 16, on Sept. 14, 1999. Smith and his co-defendant, Faunce Pearce, drove the boys to a desolate area off State Road 54, shot them execution-style and left them for dead. The shooting stemmed from a botched drug deal.

Tuttle survived and was able to flag down help.

Tuttle, now 24, testified for the state last week and returned Tuesday to give a statement, which Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia read for him. He, like the Crawfords, asked Tepper to sentence Smith to death, telling the judge how the ordeal shattered his life.

"Whatever the outcome may be, I know it will never bring back Robert Crawford, nor will it bring closure to Rob's family or mine," Garcia read. "I can only hope you, Joey, will be given the death penalty for taking Rob's life and almost taking mine."

Smith, 30, and Pearce, 45, both of Shady Hills, were convicted of first-degree murder in 2001 and sentenced to death. Smith returned to court for resentencing last week, four years after the Florida Supreme Court overturned his death sentence because of an error in a sentencing order. Tepper overturned Pearce's conviction, finding he received poor legal representation at trial.

This time, Smith represented himself with help from New Port Richey attorney Keith Hammond. The pair pelted the jury with more than two dozen mitigating factors in hopes of helping Smith avoid a return to death row.

Testifying Monday, Smith told jurors about his rough upbringing, his early descent into a life of drugs and alcohol, and the deaths of his father and brother. John Ditullio, who is facing charges in a separate slaying, testified on Smith's behalf last week, saying Smith had helped him become a better person while the two were inmates in Land O' Lakes Jail.

Smith's mother, Mary Smith, flew in from her home in Missouri to tell the jury that she still loves her son despite all his troubles.

Evidently the mitigators weren't enough to convince seven jurors Smith's life was worth saving, something that dismayed Mary Ellen Holloway.

Holloway, 29, said she has known Smith for six years and was a regular at his resentencing. She said she has gotten to know Smith well enough to know his change is genuine.

"I know my friend, and he has changed," she said. "He has been a positive influence on so many people, and he has the ability to continue to be positive. He will have family and friends who will continue to support him."

Reporter Todd Leskanic can be reached at (352) 521-3156 or

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