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Intent Key to Defense in Trial of Teen Accused of Killing St. Petersburg Police Officer

Nicholas Lindsey's defense attorneys admit that their client shot and killed St. Petersburg police Officer David S. Crawford. The Tampa Bay Times looked at the teenager's trial defense strategy this week, talking with several local defense attorneys including Bjorn Brunvand.

Lindsey is charged with first-degree murder. If convicted of that crime, the 17-year-old will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. His lawyers are focusing on the issue of criminal intent, which could make the difference between life in prison or several decades. A big difference for a 17-year-old.

University of Florida law professor Bob Dekle was quoted in the Times article as saying, "[I]t sounds like the only viable strategy." Other local defense attorneys agreed.

A tearful Lindsey confessed in a video recording played for the jury earlier in the week. One witness said he saw Lindsey running away holding a silver gun.

"Not guilty is no longer on the table," said Brunvand. So, the defense team now tries to convince the jury that Lindsey didn't intend to kill the officer.

Prosecutors argue Lindsey acted with premeditation, intending to kill when he shot Crawford five times. This is the key to first-degree murder. If Lindsey's defense attorneys convince the jury that Lindsey didn't intend to kill, he could be convicted of a lesser charge: manslaughter of a law enforcement officer. That charge carries a sentence of 30 years.

To do so, jurors would have to find that Lindsey acted with "culpable negligence" and reckless disregard for human life, but did not mean to take a life.

Defense attorneys outlined their argument to the jury in opening statements. They say that when Crawford first encountered Lindsey he ordered the teen to show his hands. Lindsey pulled out a .380 semiautomatic pistol from his sweatshirt pocket. He thought the safety was on, but it wasn't. The gun went off accidentally. Crawford then went for his gun, the defense said, and a frightened Lindsey started firing.

They described the situation as not a justified killing but a premeditated killing. "This scared child has a firearm and it accidentally goes off." "It's something that happened in seconds." In his videotaped confession, Lindsey made statements that align with the defense's theory. "I thought it was on safety," he said. He also said it just "went off."

Attorneys for both side present closing arguments to the jury today.

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