Officials reflect on Lawson case after death sentence

March 3, 2019
Arron Lawson takes the stand on Feb. 26 to ask the judges to spare him of the death penalty.

IRONTON — With Arron Lawson, 24, of Pedro, Ohio, now being moved to more permanent accommodations on Ohio’s death row after he was convicted Thursday in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court of killing four family members in 2017, Lawrence County officials reflected on the horrific case.

In a detailed post released on Facebook on Friday, Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless said the end result of the trial was fair.

“The prosecutor prepared and presented a very good case in court, which brought a verdict of guilty, and Lawson was sentenced to death. I feel this sentence is just and warranted,” he said. “I am proud of our prosecutor, Brigham Anderson, and our judicial system.”

Anderson said after Thursday’s ruling he also believed the result was correct.

“This was a tragic situation for this family,” he said. “There were multiple deaths under horrible circumstances, and we are satisfied with the verdict and happy with the sentencing.

“They believe justice was served. As hard as it was at the time and to be here and witness the evidence, they believe it was a just sentence,” he later added.

A panel of three judges sentenced Lawson to death Thursday in Ironton for the slaying of Devin Holston, 8; his mother, Stacey Holston, 24; her mother and Lawson’s aunt, Tammie McGuire, 43; and Tammie’s husband, Donald McGuire, 50, on Oct. 11, 2017, at the Holstons’ home over a 12-hour time period.

The victims’ family declined to speak with media or to give impact statements to the court after learning Lawson had been sentenced to death.

Lawless said that on the day of the killings, he had been camping at Lake Vesuvius when he received word of what occurred. Deputies quickly had a suspect in mind after speaking with Todd Holston, but more concerning was the location of 8-year-old Devin Holston, Lawless said. Police went to his school, working with officials to obtain a photo and information, and issued an Amber alert.

“Another search of the residence was made without disturbing any of the crime scene, looking for this little boy, but he was not located in an area that a person would easily be spotted,” he said. “Due to the nature of this crime, I had to ensure that the crime scene was protected and that nothing was disturbed until trained crime scene technicians could arrive.”

Police were unaware until the next day that the child was dead in his bedroom, hidden under a pile of clothing by Lawson. After the discovery, police put all of their focus on Lawson.

“This man was a suspect in the murder of four people and was loose in this county,” Lawless said. “I began to call for assistance from every agency I could reach. I needed a helicopter, K-9 and bloodhounds, night vision, airplane, manpower, anything I could think of to help us apprehend this suspect before anyone else was injured. The response from law enforcement from across Ohio and surrounding states was overwhelming and very much appreciated.”

More than 100 law enforcement officers were on road patrols, on ATVs or on foot in the woods searching around the clock, hunting for the killer. Eventually, just hours before the officers were to return to their home jurisdictions, a hungry Lawson emerged from the woods and was captured, Lawless wrote.

Lawless thanked numerous people in his post, including the officers who participated in the manhunt, EMS, 911, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, community members who provided food and water to the first responders during the 36 hours, and others.

Anderson said it was the hardest case he has prosecuted because of the details surrounding it.

“The facts of this case were horrendous,” he said. “When it comes to four murders at one time, one being a child, it’s just heart wrenching,” he said. “It’s heart wrenching for anyone. It’s been upsetting from the beginning. But my job is to make sure two things happen — truth and justice — and I think both were shown in court (last) week.”

Anderson said he had worked on nothing but the Lawson case for two months straight. When Lawson threw the curveball by waiving his rights to a jury trial, opting for his case to be decided by a three-judge panel after sides spent more than two weeks picking a jury, nothing changed from a prosecution standpoint.

“That was his right. He has that right under Ohio law, and he chose to do that,” Anderson said. “Whether he made the right decision or not, who knows? We will never know.”

Even knowing the case will have resulted in four murders and the death of another man, Anderson was able to find something positive from the case.

“As tragic as it is, what you can take away is that the system works,” he said. “It takes time and it’s frustrating at times, but our system of justice works.”

The last time a person was sentenced to the death penalty in Lawrence County, according to Anderson, surrounded the December 1966 killing of then-Ironton Police Chief Walter Markel, who was attempting to stop a jail break at the Lawrence County Jail when a prisoner obtained control of a deputy’s gun and took three deputies hostage.

When asked how much the trial cost the county and state of Ohio, Anderson had no answer, but did say it would not be in the “millions.”

Meanwhile, last week the death penalty in Ohio was placed on hold by Gov. Mike DeWine, who wants to seek a new lethal drug protocol after Federal Judge Michael Merz questioned the constitutionality of the state’s current system, stating the state’s use of midazolam could cause inmates to suffer an experience similar to waterboarding.

The Bureau of Justice and Death Penalty Information Center says on average it can take nearly two decades for an execution to be carried out.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHessler-HD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

“This was a tragic situation for this family. There were multiple deaths under horrible circumstances, and we are satisfied with the verdict and happy with the sentencing.”

Brigham Anderson

Lawrence County prosecutor