Penalty phase next in Lawson murder trial
IRONTON — Three judges ruled Monday at the Ironton Courthouse in Lawrence County that Arron Lawson is guilty in the four murders of a Pedro, Ohio family, and on Tuesday morning his attorneys will begin their fight to keep him alive.
Lawson, 24, of Pedro, admitted last week to four counts of murder in the death 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 dad and Stacey’s husband, as well as a burglary and abuse of a corpse, among other charges.
While Lawson had already admitted to the crimes, prosecutors were still required to present evidence in the case, a presentation which lasted three days, and the judges had to rule as to his guilt on aggravated factors in each of the deaths. Those included a gun being used in the crime, a child under the age of 13 being killed and three of the murders happening to cover up other crimes.
The defense called no witnesses to defend Lawson of his guilt. However, in his closing, defense attorney Kirk McVay said Lawson had been overcharged by being charged with both rape and abuse of a corpse. Stacey Holston was either alive when the assault took place, or she wasn’t. McVay believes she was dead.
Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson said Lawson had formed the intent to rape Holston well before her death, which under Ohio law would count the act as rape.
The judicial panel found Lawson to be not guilty of rape, but that he had committed the abuse of a corpse.
Lawson’s fate, ranging from life in prison with the possibility of parole to death, also will be decided by the threejudge panel after he waived his rights to a jury trial earlier this month. The panel includes Alan Corbin, Clermont County; Janet Burnside, Cuyahoga County; and Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Andy Ballard. Testimony in the second phase of the trial — the penalty phase — will start at 9 a.m. at the courthouse.
Anderson completed his questioning of witnesses Monday by wrapping up testimony from Lawrence County Sheriff Detective Sgt. Aaron Bollinger, and calling Hallie Dreyer, a forensic scientist with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, to testify to the numerous bloodstains and other evidence found at the scene.
She also confirmed Todd Holston is the father to both Devin and his 2-year-old brother.
In his closing, Anderson said Lawson had plenty of time to reconsider his premeditated attack from the night before when he propped open a window before camping out in the woods overnight to enter the home in the early morning hours of Oct. 11.
“He doesn’t wait a few minutes,” he said. “He waited hours.”
Anderson said a backpack full of supplies and his hours-long wait showed his intent.
“His first opportunity, he doesn’t talk to (Stacey Holston),” he said. “He shoots and shoots and shoots.”
Statements made to Anderson and investigators, as well as a recorded confession made by Lawson after his capture ended a 36-hour manhunt after the slayings, showed Lawson had entered the Holston home in the early morning hours of Oct. 11 and spent more than 12 hours shooting to death each family member after Stacey Holston, his cousin, ended a six-month-long sexual relationship with Lawson.
Bollinger said Monday he had been unable to confirm a consensual sexual relationship between Holston and Lawson, and actually found evidence to contradict Lawson’s claims.
Lawson first shot Stacey Holston three times after her husband left for work and son left for school, before raping her deceased body.
He would later call Devin Holston’s school to make sure the boy would come home after school. He told investigators when the child arrived home at about 4 p.m., Devin Holston had asked “too many questions” about where his mother was, so Lawson lured Devin to his bedroom with the promise of playing video games before shooting him twice.
Todd Holston testified he was worried when he did not hear from his wife all day and because he worked an hour and a half away, he called Tammie McGuire to check on the family.
McGuire went to the home and when she found the doors locked, she called Todd Holston, who gave her permission to break into the home. Holston testified he heard McGuire say “oh my god” and drop her phone before he lost contact.
Lawson shot her twice, one of which went through the back of her head and severed her tongue, which was found on the kitchen counter by investigators.
Holston then called Tammie McGuire’s husband, Donald, to go to the home. He was also shot twice and killed.
Holston arrived shortly after Donald McGuire was killed and once he entered the home, Lawson, who had run out of bullets, jumped on his back and stabbed him 11 times.
Holston overpowered Lawson, who told him he believed Holston had been a burglar and told him his family was OK.
After throwing Lawson out of the home, Holston discovered his wife dead in Devin Holston’s bedroom. He said he then grabbed his 2-year-old son, who Lawson had taken care of throughout the day, and left for help.
Devin Holston and Donald McGuire were also later found in Devin’s room, while Tammie McGuire was found in the laundry room.
Lawson led police on a 36-hour manhunt that ended when he exited the woods on his own and waited for police to arrive because he was hungry.
He had been prepared to stay on the run, he told police, but he left a bag full of survival items at the Holstons’ home.
His attorney, Kirk McVay, said Lawson’s willingness to give himself up and give a one hour statement about what occurred that day, which gave investigators additional details that helped them collect additional evidence, should be one reason his life should be spared.
Another reason should be Lawson’s upbringing in an impoverished family in which he was often the center of bullying. Lawson suffered at least two head injuries throughout his life, McVay said, and has a history of mental health issues for which he had previously been institutionalized, but had not followed up on care.
McVay said Lawson has no criminal history prior to the murders.
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.