Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hearing, but no new trial for killer


Published: Friday, November 14, 2008 at 1:00 a.m.

A death row inmate who ordered the killing of a teenager in a drug deal that went bad will get a new sentencing hearing but not a new trial.

The state Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously reversed a trial judge's decision to give handyman Faunce Levon Pearce a new trial on charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder, but it agreed to vacate his death penalty for the murder conviction. The justices ruled his lawyers were ineffective during his trial's penalty phase. They did not research his background or have him examined by mental health experts. Psychologists now say he is mentally ill and has brain damage.

Pearce, 46, ordered another man to shoot the victim, 17-year-old Robert Crawford III, and another teenager who survived. They were left for dead along a Pasco County road in 1999.

The shooter, Lawrence Smith, 31, was convicted of the same charges and also sentenced to death. His penalty later was reduced to life in prison after the Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing hearing because the judge erroneously said the death penalty was required for such crimes.

Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper ordered a new trial because defense lawyers had failed to object to testimony that Pearce forced one of the teenagers to perform oral sex on him at gunpoint and a prosecutor's comments to the jury about the uncharged crime. Tepper ruled the jury had been prejudiced, but the justices disagreed.

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