Lawson sentenced to death for Lawrence County quadruple murder
IRONTON — You could hear a pin drop inside a Lawrence County courtroom Thursday as Arron Lawson was sentenced to death for the slaying of four family members in their Pedro, Ohio, home over a period of about 12 hours in 2017.
Lawson, 24, of Pedro, admitted last week to four counts of murder in the deaths 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.
He also admitted to nine other counts, which included a knife attack conducted the same day on Todd Holston, Devin’s father and Stacey’s husband, as well as a burglary and abuse of a corpse, among other things.
The courtroom was eerily quiet, with victim Todd Holston sitting in the front row, as the judges handed down four death sentences and added 59 1/2 more years for the remaining charges.
In his final statement to the court, Lawson, who displayed no emotion, thanked the judges and prosecution.
“Thank you for giving me a fair and honest chance, and I thank prosecution for doing the right job,” he said. “I don’t hold it against them. Truthfully, I voted for them and think they did (a great job).”
Defense attorney Kirk McVay said he had defended 23 death penalty cases and they never get easier.
“These are always hard for me. We fight against sometimes terrible odds in order to, in effect, save a person’s life,” he said. “You make your arguments, and they are either accepted or ... it’s just hard to know someone’s life was placed in my hands and I was unable to succeed.”
Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson said it was the most difficult case he had prosecuted.
“I think it’s a good thing this doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “This is hard on everybody.”
Members of the victims’ family declined to give an impact statement prior to the sentencing Thursday, and they also declined to speak with media after the sentencing.
The death penalty in Ohio has been under scrutiny this week as Gov. Mike DeWine suggested it could be years before Ohio executes anyone as he ordered the prison system to create a new lethal drug protocol in response to a federal judge’s scathing critique of the state’s current method.
According to the Bureau of Justice and Death Penalty Information Center, it can take nearly two decades on average for an execution to take place after sentencing due to appeals.
Judge Michael Merz questioned the constitutionality of the state’s system, stating the state’s use of midazolam could cause inmates to suffer an experience similar to waterboarding.
A judicial panel of Alan Corbin of Clermont County, Janet Burnside of Cuyahoga County and Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Andy Ballard agreed Monday to accept Lawson’s guilty plea to all charges, except for rape because he was found guilty of abuse of a corpse. Lawson had previously waived his right to a jury trial.
The trial entered the punishment phase Tuesday, and after two days of testimony, attorneys gave closing arguments for and against the death penalty for Lawson. In total, testimony in the trial lasted six days.
The judges deliberated for about four hours Thursday.
Police believe the murders were a result of Stacey Holston, Lawson’s cousin, ending a sexual relationship with him, but prosecutors could not find evidence the relationship had existed. Testimony presented this week showed Lawson’s mental issues could have given him an obsessive tendency toward the victim. Anderson said Lawson had executed Stacey Holston and did the same to the others to cover up his crime.
McVay spent part of closing arguments reflecting on his own childhood with loving parents who projected him into the life of being an attorney. McVay said he was successful because of his family and, in contrast, Lawson was behind the defendant’s table because of abuse and abandonment issues that projected his violent outburst.
Through their investigation and Lawson’s confession, police found the night before the murders Lawson propped open a window in the Holstons’ home before re-entering the next day and hiding in a back room.
After Devin and Todd Holston left for school and work, Lawson emerged from the bedroom, shooting Stacey Holston three times before raping her. When Devin arrived home from school at 4 p.m. - after Lawson called the boy’s school to make sure he would - he was lured into a back room with the promise of playing video games before Lawson shot him.
Tammie and Donald McGuire both were later shot twice and killed after arriving at the home separately at different times when Todd Holston had called asking them to check on Stacey Holston after Todd Holston could not reach her throughout the day.
Todd Holston soon after arrived at the home and was stabbed 11 times by Lawson after entering the home, but was able to overpower him and throw him out of the house. During his testimony last week, Holston said Lawson had appeared to have snapped out of something and looked as if he was possessed.
But Lawson was sane at the time of the attacks, Anderson said.
Lawson then led authorities on a 36-hour manhunt before emerging from the woods to turn himself in to police when he was hungry. He then gave police an hour-long confession, detailing the crimes to police, which McVay said showed his remorse.
Anderson said Lawson only turned himself in because he was left without options after he forgot a supply bag at the Holstons’ house.
“He wasn’t remorseful. He was hungry,” he said. “This was revenge for his rejection. Stacey rejected him in some way and so he planned to kill her and her family, and he did.”
Anderson said Wednesday that Lawson had said in prison he was only remorseful for killing Devin Holston and bragged about what a “good shot” he was.
Dr. Bob Stinson, a forensic psychologist who testified for two days on behalf of Lawson, previously said Lawson’s family has suffered from multi-generational family dysfunction, violence and poverty. There was also an extensive history of mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as neglect and physical and sexual abuse. All of these things would have made Lawson more likely to become a violent person, he said.
McVay’s case surrounded events that occurred in the 1970s with Lawson’s grandparents and extended family before Lawson was even born. McVay said his mother’s upbringing mattered because how she was raised had an effect on how she would raise her children.
Anderson said there is no correlation between poverty and crime, despite McVay’s attempt to connect the two.
Although McVay argued Lawson had been abandoned multiple times by his mother and father who did not provide for him, Anderson said he still had a loving and supportive family who was there for him.
“Were they perfect? No. Is anyone’s? No,” he said. “But they loved him and tried their best, and he knew that.”
Lawson reported to Stinson he had been bullied at home and school, but there had been no evidence in documentation that was true, Anderson said. However, hospital records showed he enjoyed his home life and had friends at school.
The abuse wasn’t recorded because no one would listen to Lawson, McVay said.
“Maybe it’s time people start listening to him,” he said. “Unlike they did when they refused to call him Arron (A-Ron).
“Sometimes family secrets remain family secrets,” McVay later added.
Family members and court officials have all used different pronunciations of Lawson’s name, either “Aaron,” the traditional pronunciation, or “A-Ron.”
Stinson said Wednesday he would have diagnosed Lawson with borderline personality disorder if he had been asked to diagnose him, but Anderson said that diagnosis had never been previously discussed. Lawson had also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.
McVay said Lawson was at the Holstons’ beck and call. He was good to Stacey and Todd and took care of the children. He couldn’t have taken the rejection well mentally, McVay said.
Anderson said medical records show Lawson’s only PTSD trigger that angered him had been when people talked badly about his family. How would that relate to the murders if it occurred when Stacey Holston allegedly ended an affair, he questioned.
Lawson’s mother, Carolyn Taylor, and sister, Stephanie Bentley, both took the stand this week, asking the judges to spare his life.
A person has not been sentenced to death in Lawrence County since the 1960s in a case involving a jail break. The last death penalty case tried in the county was a 2005 case, but the defendant received a life sentence without parole.
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.