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Judge rules on motions
OKs jury tour of Lawson home
In this May 24, 2011, photo, Martinsville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joan Ziglar (right) leaves the home of Don Lawson on Parkview Avenue in Martinsville. Lawson’s body had been found inside hours earlier. (Bulletin file photo)
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Jurors will be allowed to tour the home where Martinsville businessman Don Lawson was killed during the capital murder trial of the man charged in Lawson’s slaying, a judge ruled Monday.
Martinsville Circuit Court Judge G. Carter Greer granted the request, which was made in a motion by Martinsville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joan Ziglar. Greer had taken the motion under advisement during a hearing in March.
The judge’s decision Monday drew objections from attorneys involved in defending Kenneth Brian Smith, 41, of Martinsville.
Smith and Amanda Gail Alexander, 25, also of Martinsville, both are charged with capital murder, grand larceny, conspiracy, robbery and statutory burglary in connection with Lawson’s death in late May 2011.
Smith, who is Lawson’s former stepson, sat in court Monday morning with his defense team of Roanoke attorney Tom Blaylock and Franklin County attorneys David Furrow and A.J. Dudley.
Smith’s trial is set to begin in October. If he is convicted of capital murder, Ziglar has said she will seek the death penalty.
Before Greer ruled on the motion Monday, Ziglar said jurors would better understand how the crime took place if they are allowed to view Lawson’s home at 806 Parkview Ave.
A virtual tour of the scene or photographs would not convey the same understanding as viewing the home, which would allow the jury to see where Lawson’s alleged killers went up the stairs and “laid in wait for the victim to sit down,” Ziglar said.
According to an autopsy released at a preliminary hearing in November, Lawson, 59, a local businessman and GOP activist, died of blunt injuries to the head. An affidavit for a search warrant in June 2011 alleged that a hatchet was used to break the glass in the back door of Lawson’s home and to kill him.
Lawson’s 2005 Chevrolet minivan was missing from the home when authorities arrived. It was recovered later in Henrico County, and authorities retrieved a hatchet, Lawson’s wallet and keys from a wooded area in Pittsylvania County, the affidavit showed.
Blaylock countered Monday that the crime scene has changed since Lawson’s death. He said he did not see the need for the jury to view it.
Ziglar said the home has been cleaned to protect the value because it “was full of blood.” But, she noted, “the location certainly hasn’t changed.”
There also was no change to exterior features of the home or to the interior layout, she said, and noted the garage is situated on the front of the home.
A sliding glass door that is in the rear of the home will be of interest to jurors, Ziglar said.
That “is where the defendant (allegedly) used a hatchet” to gain access to the home, Ziglar said. Lawson was seated near that door, and the room also held a hospital bed that Lawson used, she said.
Ziglar also asked that the jury be allowed to visit an area she referred to as a “thicket.” She said evidence that included a mask, underwear and some other items from Lawson’s home was discarded in that area.
Greer granted Ziglar’s motion in part by allowing the jury to view the crime scene but not the thicket.
In arguing for a motion to sequester the jury, Ziglar said there have been conversations about a change of venue.
“This (trial) is going to be a big deal” in Martinsville with its population of 13,000, Ziglar said. The case is “something people are talking about (already) and will continue talking about.”
There has been no motion for a change of venue, and Greer said that “is a totally different issue.” He said sequestering jurors is done only “in extreme situations,” in part because it is a burden on jurors and resources.
“It’s not simply a matter of sending jurors” to a motel or a hotel, the judge said, and denied the motion.
The next hearing in Smith’s case is set July 20.
Alexander’s trial also is set to begin in October.