Arron Lawson pleads guilty
IRONTON — A man admitted in a Lawrence County court Thursday to aggressively murdering four family members in 2017 and is now fighting to avoid being sentenced to death.
Arron L. Lawson, 25, pleaded guilty Thursday morning in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court to murdering four people, who ranged in age from 8 to 50, and injuring a fifth in October 2017 at their Pedro, Ohio, home. Authorities say he waited for hours at the Pedro home and one by one shot his victims as they entered the home throughout the day after Stacey Holston, 24, broke off an affair between the two.
Lawson’s victims — Holston, 24; her son, Devin Holston, 8; Stacey’s mother and Lawson’s aunt, Tammie L. McGuire, 43; and McGuire’s husband, Donald McGuire, 50 — were shot to death Oct. 11, 2017, at the Holstons’ home.
Todd Holston, Stacey Holston’s husband, also was stabbed with a pocketknife inside the family’s trailer during the attack, but survived his injuries.
Other charges to which Lawson admitted his guilt include aggravated burglary, attempted murder and felonious assault of Todd Holston, the rape of Stacey Holston, abuse of a corpse, kidnapping of Devin Holston, tampering with evidence, theft of a motor vehicle and failure to comply with the order or signal of a police officer.
After the plea, Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson began his fight to prove the offenses were preplanned and aggravated and that Lawson deserves the death penalty. The offenses that Anderson says are aggravated are that Lawson had pre-planned the attack against Stacey Holston and killed the McGuires to cover up the crime. Devin’s murder was aggravated because of his age.
The Holstons were an ail-American family with a hardworking, dedicated father who worked a full-time job about an hour and a half away from Pedro and a stay-at-home mother with two kids the family adores, Anderson said. Todd Holston left the home that morning not knowing the horror he would return to that evening.
Anderson said Lawson’s actions had been premeditated because he came to the home with a backpack with a shotgun, ammunition, zip ties, a ski mask, hair and beard trimmers and more.
Defense attorney Kirk McVay said his client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after living a life of poverty and taking the brunt of bullying and harassment from his half-and step-siblings. Lawson has had at least two head injuries throughout his life and has spent time in mental health facilities and under the care of doctors, although he never followed through with treatment.
Although Lawson had no criminal history prior to the slayings, McVay said that Law-son had once been institutionalized after chasing a man with a butcher knife when the man insulted his deceased “second mother,” at whose mention Law-son cried Thursday.
As an escape he spent much of his time at the Holstons’ home in the six months prior to the attack.
The crimes were terrible, McVay said, but it’s what happened after that constitutes Lawson’s life being saved. After a two-day manhunt, Lawson exited the woods near a roadway, where he waited for police to arrive. A man spotted him and alerted police and, within hours, Lawson had told Lawrence County deputies the entire story, even answering questions they hadn’t asked.
“What he did by (owning up) showed more character than most defendants,” McVay said.
Lawson’s breaking point had been when his lover and cousin, Stacey Holston, broke off their relationship the day before the slayings, Anderson said. That night while in the house, Lawson used one of Devin’s books to prop open a window he would use to break into the home at 5 a.m. the next day.
He would lie in wait for hours until Devin Holston left for the school bus before he revealed himself, Anderson said, shooting Stacey Holston three times in the chest before moving her body into a bedroom where he stripped off her clothes and raped her.
Blood found on Stacey Holston’s hands and foot indicate she had taken at least one step and grabbed her chest before she died, Shane Hanshaw, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations and Identification, testified.
Lawson then called Devin Holston’s elementary school from Stacey Holston’s phone, posing as Todd Holston, to make sure the child would be sent to the home after school.
Until then, Lawson cared for the Holstons’ 2-year-old son.
Lawson told police that Devin Holston was “just asking too many questions” when he returned home. Lawson enticed the 8-year-old into a bedroom by saying they could play video games. Devin went to retrieve the system with Lawson following and then shooting him.
Todd Holston testified Thursday that he would typically talk to his wife several times a day and was worried when they did not speak. He called Tammie McGuire, who lived less than a mile from the Holstons, who agreed she would check on the family.
She was given permission to break into the home when she found the doors locked and windows drawn, which Todd Holston said was unusual.
Todd Holston said at that point, he heard her scream, “Oh, my god” and a phone dropped. Unbeknownst to Todd Holston, Lawson had just killed her by shooting her twice. Todd Holston then called Donald McGuire, Tammie’s husband, and asked him to check on the family.
He complied and was also shot by Lawson after entering the home.
After completing his drive home, Todd Holston said he found no vehicles in the driveway. He unlocked the house door and entered the home, immediately being attacked by Lawson, who jumped on his back and started stabbing him.
Todd Holston was stabbed 11 |times in the neck, head, abdomen and chest, but was able to overpower Lawson before asking him what was going on. Lawson told him the family was fine and he had thought Todd was a burglar.
Out of the corner of his eye, Todd said he saw his 2-year-old son alive in a back bedroom as he threw Lawson out of the home and locked the door.
As he began to walk through the house, he realized something was not right. He went to Devin Holston’s bedroom and the door was being blocked by Donald McGuire’s body. At the time, Todd Holston said he believed the blockage to be his son, but he had not seen who it was. He did find Stacey’s naked body on a futon before he grabbed the toddler and left the home seeking help.
“I grabbed (Stacey’s) face, and she was lifeless,” Todd Holston said. “I grabbed (the 2-year-old) and immediately went out the door.”
He traveled to Tammie and Donald McGuire’s house, who were neighbors with Lawson, his mother and other family members. Lawson’s and Stacey Holston’s mothers are sisters.
Once there, 911 was called and he was transported to Cabell Huntington Hospital in West Virginia by helicopter.
Todd Holston told McVay he never thought Lawson had been obsessed with his wife and that Lawson had looked possessed at the time of the attack, but at one point he appeared to snap out of it.
Anderson said Stacey Holston and Donald McGuire were found in Devin’s bedroom, while Tammie McGuire was found in the laundry room with dirty laundry thrown over her to conceal her body. It is unclear where Devin Holston was located.
After Lawson left the scene in a truck he had stolen from the Holstons, Anderson said Lawson found a construction vest, which he put on, and went inside an area store to buy clothing. He later re-entered the store to buy a portable DVD player and movies, all purchased with money stolen from the Holstons.
He then got food and purchased marijuana, Anderson said.
Eventually police spotted Lawson driving the truck and followed him until he reached his next location. They then put on their lights and a pursuit ensued, but Lawson wrecked the vehicle and fled. About 36 hours later, he walked out of the woods on his own to turn himself in to police.
Testimony is expected to resume Friday, Feb. 22, with more testimony from Hanshaw at 9 a.m. at the Lawrence County Courthouse.
Last week, after the completion of two weeks of jury selection, Lawson waived his right to jury trial and instead opted to have his case heard by a panel of three Ohio judges. The waiver was against the advice of his attorney.
The trial resumed Thursday with former judges Alan Corbin, Clermont County, and Janet Burnside, Cuyahoga County, joining Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Andy Ballard on the panel.
Follow reporter Courtney Hes-sler at Facebook.com/CHessler-HD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.