Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Smith Spared Execution For Pasco County Murder

By Tribune Staff The Tampa Tribune

Published: April 22, 2008

DADE CITY Lawrence Joey Smith was spared a death sentence this afternoon for killing a 17-year-old Land O' Lakes High School student.

Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper sentenced Smith, 30, to life in prison for killing Robert Crawford in 1999, breaking with a split jury's recommendation that Smith be sentenced to death.

In a hearing that lasted about 45 minutes, Tepper read a lengthy order outlining her decision. In part, she concluded Smith did not deserve to die after determing the so-called "aggravators" in the case were outweighed by the "mitigators."

According to Florida law, the decision of whether someone is sentenced to life in prison or death is made after weighing aggravating and mitigating factors, which are defined by statute. After going through that process last month, a jury voted 7-5 to recommend a death sentence for Smith.

Judges, ultimately, impose death sentences in Florida after giving "great weight" to jury recommendations. Judges typically follow jury recommendations, so Tepper's ruling was somewhat surprising.

Smith and co-defendant Faunce Pearce were charged with killing Crawford and shooting his friend, Stephen Tuttle. The two boys were shot alongside State Road 54, near Land O' Lakes, and left for dead. Tuttle, then 16, survived and flagged down help. His testimony helped convict Smith of first-degree murder.

The shootings were drug-related.

Smith, who has always maintained he did not shoot the boys, initially was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 2001. The Florida Supreme Court overturned his death sentence in 2004 and ordered a new sentencing hearing.

A staff report

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