UPDATE: Lawson waives right to jury trial
IRONTON, Ohio — While Arron L. Lawson, an Ironton, Ohio, man accused of killing four family members in 2017, waived his right to a jury trial Tuesday, evidence in the case will still be presented and the case will move forward.
Lawson, 25, appeared with defense attorneys Kirk McVay and Gene Meadows early Tuesday morning, less than a day after a jury was selected. Prior to bringing jurors into the courtroom, McVay said — against his advice — his client wished to waive his right to a jury trial and possibly plea in the future.
“I do believe this is a great decision for me and I will waive that right,” Lawson said.
Lawson’s alleged victims — Stacey Holston, 24; her son, Devin Holston, 8; Stacey’s mother, Tammie L. McGuire, 43; and McGuire’s husband, Donald McGuire, 50; all of Pedro — were shot to death Oct. 11, 2017, at the Holstons’ home. Lawson is Tammie McGuire’s nephew.
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 against Lawson 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.
Lawson sat in the courtroom emotionless Tuesday with his hands folded together on top of the table in front of him. At one point, Meadows offered him a peppermint candy, which he did not take.
Opening statements in the case had been set to begin at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Instead, evidence will be presented at an unknown date to a three-judge panel by prosecutors, who still have to prove Lawson’s guilt and that the crimes were aggravated.
Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson said he understands Lawson wishes to enter a plea once he gets before the panel.
“If he does that, it will still be the obligation of the state to present evidence and proof as to these aggravating circumstances,” he said. “Which is what allows the finding of fact and sentencing of (…) death.”
Anderson said the trial, which was expected to take more than four weeks, will now move at a faster pace. If Lawson pleads guilty before the three-judge panel, the case will move even faster. While the move might change the way he presents his case, nothing else would change in his approach, Anderson said.
Opening statements in front of the jury had originally been set for Monday morning, but were delayed due to a “legal issue.” Lawrence County Judge Andy Ballard revealed Tuesday that issue was Lawson wishing to waive his jury rights as he did Tuesday. Ballard had given him time to speak with attorneys and family members and Lawson decided Monday afternoon to move forward with the jury trial before changing his mind.
Lawson said Tuesday he felt in his heart it was best for his case to be heard by the judges instead.
“I had second thoughts throughout the night,” he said.
At one point, a gallery member mouthed to him “What are you doing?” as others shook their heads. Lawson added his attorneys had given him great advice at every point of the case.
Ballard accepted Lawson’s request for the three-judge panel, and said he would submit a request to the Supreme Court on Tuesday for two additional judges. Ballard, who was set to oversee the trial, will be one of the judges on that panel.
Ballard said he hopes the Supreme Court responds to his request and appoints judges so the evidence can be presented before the end of the month. If the judges find the crimes to be aggravated, they will still have to determine if Lawson deserves the death penalty.
The plea means that two weeks of bringing a jury pool of 500 down to 12 final jurors and four alternatives was all for naught. Nine women and three men made up the 12 jurors selected.
Anderson said Lawson’s decision was a shock and the family was surprised.
“The family was here in support and wanting to listen to the evidence and wanting to obtain justice,” he said. “I’ve told them it’s still going to happen, it’s just going to happen in a different manner.”
Anderson said the last death penalty case tried in the county was a 2005 case in which the defendant received a sentence of life without parole. The last person sentenced to death in the county was in the early 1960s, as a result of a jailbreak.
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD