Confession highlights testimony as quadruple murder trial continues
IRONTON - Although there was hope an 8-year-old victim of a quadruple slaying by Arron Lawson, 24, had survived his family’s massacre when he went missing from his Pedro, Ohio, home in October 2017, authorities would eventually locate his body shoved in a corner in his room next to a dresser and covered in dirty clothing.
Devin Holston, 8, his mother, Stacey Holston, 24, her mother and Lawson’s aunt, Tammie McGuire, 43, and Tammie’s husband, Donald McGuire, 50, were all killed Oct. 11, 2017, at the Holstons’ home by Lawson. Todd Holston, Stacey Holston’s husband, was also stabbed with a pocketknife inside the family’s trailer during the daylong attack.
Lawson admitted to the murders and nine other counts Thursday. Last week, he waived his right to a jury trial - against the advice of his attorneys - and opted for his fate of life imprisonment or death to be decided by a three-judge panel. The panel includes Alan Corbin, Clermont County, Janet Burnside, Cuyahoga County, and Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Andy Ballard.
In the first two days of testimony, Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson introduced around 250 photographs and physical items into evidence. Friday’s testimony surrounded crime scene analysis, autopsy reports and the playing of a confession made by Lawson after he surrendered himself to authorities.
The defendant spent much of Friday’s testimony using a laptop while remaining emotionless as the graphic photos and bloody clothing were shown.
Lawson’s videoed confession to police lasted about an hour as he sipped on a soda and gave a detailed account of what he believed occurred that day. He was emotionless as he detailed the attacks and aftermath to police.
Shane Hanshaw, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations and Identification, agreed during testimony with Lawson’s defense attorney Kirk McVay that crime scene evidence was corroborated by the story Lawson told police after his capture. Lawrence County Sheriff Detective Sgt. Aaron Bollinger testified that investigators were able to find additional evidence at the home because of Lawson’s statement.
During testimony from Todd Holston and opening arguments by Anderson on Thursday, it was revealed that Lawson’s plan to kill started when Stacey Holston, his cousin, broke off an affair Oct. 10 while Lawson was at the Holstons’ home. During his confession, Lawson told investigators their relationship had only lasted about six months prior to the killings, about as long as the Holstons had been married.
Before leaving the home, Lawson used a child’s book to prop open a window, which he would use to re-enter the home around 5 a.m. the next day, Oct. 11. He entered through a window into a room used for storage, he said during his confession, and hid behind a Christmas tree for a couple hours until Stacey Holston was alone.
Prosecutors said Lawson arrived ready for murder, with a bag full of bullets, zip ties, a ski mask, hair trimmers, a blue tarp, toilet paper, rope and more items to help him commit the crimes and survive after.
After Todd Holston left for work and Devin Holston got on the school bus, Lawson emerged from his hiding spot, shooting Stacey Holston in the chest three times. He moved her body into Devin’s room, where she was raped. Lawson admitted Stacey was deceased at the time he raped her. Investigators found a used condom in the trash at the home.
Montgomery County, Ohio, assistant coroner Dr. Robert Shott, who performed the autopsies on all the victims, testified Friday that three shots received by Stacey Holston destroyed her heart and lungs and broke her ribs and shoulder blade.
Lawson soon after used her phone to call Devin’s school, posing as Todd Holston, to make sure the boy would arrive at the home after school. When the 8-year-old arrived at home around 4 p.m., Lawson shot and killed him for “asking too many questions.”
“He kept complaining,” Lawson told police after his capture. “So I told him my (PlayStation) was in his bedroom (by) his dresser.”
Devin Holston’s body was not found until about a day after his death, Hanshaw said. An Amber Alert had initially been issued for him.
“At this point in time we hadn’t found Devin,” he said. “We didn’t know if he was dead or alive.”
However, as crime scene investigators got further in the process of the crime scene analysis, they found the boy shoved next to a dresser next to where the bodies of Stacey Holston and Donald McGuire had been found. Clothing had been thrown over him to conceal his body, and the agents did not find him until moving Donald McGuire from the room.
No PlayStation was found in Devin’s room, Bollinger said.
Shott said Devin Holston’s two gunshot wounds through his back destroyed his lungs, heart and bones. A photo showed his upper arms completely destroyed by one of the shots.
After not hearing from his wife all day, Todd Holston called Tammie McGuire, his mother-in-law, to check on Stacey Holston because he worked an hour and a half away at the time. McGuire complied, and after gaining access to the locked home she was immediately shot by Lawson.
Tammie McGuire had been shot twice, one shot entering through the back of her neck and going through her mouth, ripping out her tongue, which was found by investigators on a kitchen counter in the home. She would have been instantly paralyzed, Shott said. The second shot was through her shoulder.
Unable to reach Tammie McGuire, Todd Holston then called his father-in-law, Donald McGuire, to go to the home. McGuire also met his demise with Lawson’s final bullets. Donald McGuire had been shot through his chest and shoulder with two types of bullets.
Shott said while all four victims received fatal wounds, none of their deaths were instantaneous.
When Todd Holston finally arrived home, he unlocked his door and was immediately attacked by Lawson, who jumped on his back and stabbed him 11 times.
Todd Holston overpowered Lawson, who said he had believed Holston was a burglar before Lawson was thrown out of the home.
After he was caught, investigators found Lawson had laceration wounds to his right hand that were consistent with a knife taken into evidence by investigators. He later told police it had been from the knife attack.
Todd Holston soon discovered his wife’s body and grabbed his 2-year-old son before going to the McGuires’ home for help because he did not know they were both deceased in his home, which was less than a mile from the McGuires’ home.
The McGuires were also neighbors of Lawson, his mother and others. Tammie McGuire and Lawson’s mother are sisters. Todd Holston was able to call 911 for help at Lawson’s mother’s home.
The Holstons’ 2-year-old son was inside the home the entire day and was cared for by Lawson, who fed him and changed his diapers. As for why the toddler survived, Lawson said he had too close of a connection with him.
“I have baby-sat and watched over him so much,” he said. “I watched him pretty much every day.”
After leaving the home, Lawson sent police on a 36-hour manhunt. Investigators examined the Holstons’ truck, which was stolen and later crashed by Lawson after a police chase that started when police spotted him the night of the killings. Inside the vehicle they found blood stains, receipts from Taco Bell and Walmart, and bloody clothing. The Walmart purchase was made at about 8 p.m. the day of the killings.
The purchase of food, clothing and a portable DVD player with movies was made with money stolen from the Holstons, Anderson said. During his confession, Lawson appeared to be insulted when detectives implied he had shoplifted from Walmart.
Eventually, because he was hungry, he emerged from the woods, waiting for police to arrive. He told detectives he was prepared to go on the run forever but forgot his backpack at the Holstons’ house. He also told police he did not surrender sooner because he was scared.
“I didn’t even grab the gun,” he said during his confession. “I didn’t want to hurt anybody else.”
Within two hours of his capture, he had confessed in great detail to the crime, a move McVay said was admirable and shows his client’s remorse.
McVay said Lawson grew up in an impoverished family and was often the butt of family jokes and bullying. He has a history of mental health issues, including at least one institutionalization, but never followed through with care.
The trial is slated to resume at 9 a.m. Monday, Feb. 25, at the Lawrence County Courthouse with prosecutors presenting video surveillance of Lawson during the time after the murders and before his capture.
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.